Training: Information versus Skill

Many people lump “training” into one big mental bucket. But in fact, training is (or should be) divided into two distinct categories: training to convey information, and training to impart skill or improve a behavior.

Many companies understand that they need to improve skills, but when they set out to do that, they teach information. That’s a bit like teaching someone to ride a unicycle by giving them a classroom lecture—the information won’t do much good until they get on an actual unicycle and try it out.

Because of this common confusion between information and skill, people may know about something and can tell you all about it—even explain how to do it better. But often, they can’t actually do it better. They have received information but have not developed a skill.

Skill is improved by doing!

When I design a workshop to improve skills, I take great care to make sure the program includes the basics of skill building.

  • They need to understand it, and this does indeed require the transferal of information.
  • They need to see and hear it performed well.
  • They need to try it themselves.
  • They need to be critiqued on their performance.
  • They need to try it again until they are using the skill at the desired level.

Only then do they move on to the next skill.

I often speak at association meetings and conventions. Sometimes, a meeting planner asks me, “Bob, we have an hour on the program. Can you teach our people how to negotiate?” And I always answer, “No, and neither can anyone else. It’s too large a group and not enough time.”

Acquiring a skill or improving behavior takes time, and it is best done in small groups, where a person can get individual attention.

Don’t fall into the trap of confusing the two. I find good companies, including some in the Fortune 500, conducting what they call “sales training,” and it’s not about sales at all. It’s about product. It is the passing on of information, and often they do it very well. But even the best, most effectively conveyed information doesn’t improve anyone’s ability to sell, because it doesn’t help the participants acquire a new skill or improve the skills they already have.

Always keep this distinction in mind:

  • We learn information by hearing and seeing.
  • We learn a skill by doing.

Recognizing the difference between the two may be the most important thing you learn today.

Golf is an apt example. You can pick up some great information about the game from reading books and watching videos. But, at some point in the learning process, without the actual experience of swinging a club and hitting a golf ball, you are not going to be a good golfer. To acquire the skill of golf requires practice.

So when you’re looking at improving the performance of your team, be sure they are not only informed, but also trained. The results will be well worth the effort.