I love ballet. So much so that I take ballet class three to four times a week. Because I live in San Francisco, the school I attend is able to attract top-tier teachers. This means that I often find myself dancing side-by-side with principal ballerinas from San Francisco Ballet. This is a little like finding yourself singing with Lady Gaga or acting alongside Meryl Streep.
Here’s the thing that I’ve noticed, though. We (myself and these ballet stars) are doing the exact same steps to the exact same music in the exact same place at the exact same time, yet it sure doesn’t look that way. Why, why, why? Picture me wringing my hands and slowly beating my head against the ballet barre in frustration. The answer is a single word: skill.
What we are doing is the same. How we are doing it is not. And, this is why content isn’t training. Content provides the what. Training provides the how.
It concerns me when I hear content being discussed more and more frequently as being synonymous with training. Taking a course on Coursera can provide you with the what, but it won’t teach you the how. Ditto with providing content in bite-size chunks à la microlearning, taking an e-learning course, watching a YouTube video, or searching the Internet. Lots of what, but not much (if any) how.
I know this to be true from painful personal experience. Last year alone I spent $6,000 on various online courses to improve my marketing skills. I got lots of what and no how, which meant I got zero return on my investment. See what I mean about painful?
Marketing is tricky. There are a lot of nuances that are difficult to get. There are a thousand tweaks you can make to improve your results. What I needed was personal coaching with an accomplished marketer with years of experience to provide advice and recommendations to set me on the right path and to help me figure out what to tweak once my campaign went live to get better results. What I got was a series of lifeless steps and one-size-fits-all templates that worked for someone else’s business, but that fit my business like someone else's shoes would fit my feet.
If you think about it, a lot of things in the world of work are a lot like marketing, full of nuances and subtleties. Providing content is a start, but it isn’t sufficient. Training, in contrast, speeds up mastery. It enables me to learn from someone else's lessons learned when skill matters.
Training can and should include content—but it shouldn’t end at content. Training needs to include personal advice and recommendations as well as feedback and opportunities to practice in a relatively risk-free environment. It can come in the form of instructor-led sessions, supervisor coaching, apprenticeships, challenge assignments, shadowing, lab sessions (remote or in person), and peer mentoring to name a few.
So, before you decide to provide content in lieu of training, ask yourself, “Is skill important?” If the answer is “yes,” then think about how you can add some element of training to support skill development instead of just providing content. Your learners will thank you, I promise.