Teaching vs. Learning


“Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.” –Chinese Proverb

Early on in my career, I was assigned to train a large consumer goods packaging company on a new software platform they had purchased from my company. One hundred and fifty people required training, ranging from junior marketing managers to senior business directors, as the software was going to impact business operations across the company.

So there I was in a large training room, filled with computer monitors for people to use as I was teaching them about this state-of-the-art software. After the first day, I realized that everyone was kind of dazed and confused with the content, and this was after months of designing and developing the training program.

I wasn’t sure what to do. And then I had one of the directors ask me in class if I could spend 30 minutes with him later that week at his desk some answering questions he had about the new software application. I agreed and continued the lesson. Then, after the training session, I had a line-up of people asking me to meet with them later on that week. The only condition I had was they practice the exercises they learned in the classroom.

So week one of the training was done, and there I performing one-on-one coaching. I then had a big “aha” moment, there is a big difference between teaching and learning. The participants knew they needed to learn this new software in order to do their jobs, so there they were absorbing the information from the workshop; but still struggled to learn it.

Often “training” programs involves delivering a lot of information to people with the hopes they will learn it. However, given the new business world, companies that wish to remain innovative and competitive need to create learning cultures.

Here are a few strategies that will help you create a high performance learning culture:


Often over talked about, and for good reason, coaching is actually about developing a certain set of skills that allows a person to help another person recognize and develop their unique skills and talents. This doesn’t mean everyone in an organization needs to enroll in a coaching program and become a certified coach, but it is important that coaching skills are part of a manager’s development plan and performance review process.

 Peer Learning

Given the diversity in the workplace and the depth of skills and experience people have today, peer-to-peer learning is essential. Four different generations are in the workplace, with people from all over the world now working together, this gives teams and organizations the opportunity to create a learning culture through peer-to-peer learning.

Prudent Risk

Encourage the art and science of risk-taking. Giving people the opportunity to try different approaches, make mistakes, learn from them, improve and move forward is essential in the creation of a learning culture. Failure for the longest time has been shunned and looked down upon in most organizations however, given the need for constant improvement and innovation, it’s now almost second nature to allow people to fail fast and often.

I must admit, my biggest challenge was explaining to my V.P. of Sales why I decided to start providing our clients with a coaching service in order to help them truly learn the new software we had sold them. He did eventually come around and learned the difference between teaching someone and actually having them learn new skills. Incidentally, so did the client; they signed a 3 year contract with us because we had invested the extra time to ensure that their employees learned the new software plateform.

All the best in achieving your highest performance.


Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net