There is an important distinction between training and professional development. Training is about the ‘how’ — how to comply with certain rules, how to use a budget system, how to use the jargon in a technical field, how to calculate things, how to perform CPR, etc. Training is necessary because people in workplaces must know what tools to use, when and how to use them. Trainees learn to do something automatically, so they can apply these skills under stressful conditions as well.
Professional development includes so much more. It is also about the ‘why’ and should be about empowering people to make a change.
Self-paced e-learning modules are examples of training. Are they meaningful? They have a place in the e-learning landscape, especially for systems and compliance training. Yet even there, the sector is increasingly questioning the need for training when a smart job aid can do the job. Very little of what we do in the workplace is about compliance, yet it dominates the e-learning sector.
The greater issue is whether training turns people into better professionals. Training without professional development could just lead to poor practices being delivered faster and more efficiently.
Professional development is far more complex than training. It’s impossible to support this through a programme of self-paced e-learning modules and/or a few webinars, because these are passive learning events (and no, the quiz in the module and the poll in the webinar doesn’t make it active). These approaches don’t allow for the depth required for meaningful and life-changing professional development.
Organisations that recognize this are inclined to stick with face-to-face workshops despite the costs and loss of opportunity to reach out further. In some sectors – especially the NGO and international development sector – budget constraints increasingly mean that these programmes are cut altogether. All that’s left is online training, whereas the needs for more and better professional development remain immense.
Yet we can support professional development through online learning provided it is designed to do so. I wish more learning and development staff would look beyond the typical webinar and self-paced modules and explore approaches that allow for more depth and collaboration. eWorkshops might be the answer their organisations are looking for.