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Learning vs. training

Oct. 26, 2009
“The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct.” –Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts Professor Jerry Osteryoung from the college of business at Florida State University penned an interesting column the ...

The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct.” –Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts

Professor Jerry Osteryoung from the college of business at Florida State University penned an interesting column the other day about why businesses must stop focus on “training” their employees and instead find ways to help them “learn.” It’s a philosophy that has a lot to do with the business side of trucking these days, too, especially for smaller carriers and owner-operators, for only by “learning” how to adapt to all the changes going on in this industry can they not only survive but prosper.

“Most businesses these days talk about training, and many have entire departments dedicated to training their workers. However, I think the emphasis on training is misplaced,” explained Osteryoung. “Rather, the focus should be on learning, and many larger companies are now changing their training departments to learning departments. While this might just seem like a subtle change in wording, I can tell you that it is much bigger.”

The professor noted that, with most training programs, the emphasis is on the trainer disseminating information to participants. “It is the trainer’s responsibility to get the material across; training simply becomes an event that occurs when staff members attend a training session,” Osteryoung pointed out. “Learning, on the other hand, is an internal event. It transfers the responsibility to the participant. It is now up to them to understand and master the material. Between training and learning, the focus shifts from teacher to student.”

The professor, by the way, travels all over the place conducting seminars on a variety of business topics, and he always tells his participants that he’s not there to train them; rather, he’s there to facilitate the learning process.

[I for one can attest to this, being fortunate enough to hear Professor Osteryoung conduct such seminars a time or two.]

“Thus, the outcome of the seminar rests on them learning the necessary material. It is their responsibility to master the material, and not mine to train them,” he stressed. “This is a big shift in orientation, but it is one that is vital in business.”

This new philosophy, Osteryoung believes, requires that each participant comes into the learning environment with a clear understanding that the responsibility for mastering the material is his or hers and not the instructor’s. In addition, the manager plays a key role in ensuring that the learning is transferred into the employee’s work environment. The manager is then responsible for providing the encouragement, tools and support that will enable the employee to successfully apply the new skills and knowledge to his or her day-to-day activities, the professor explained

“Some people might say that the distinction between learning and training is minor, but in my mind it is quite large. It changes the entire way we approach new material,” Osteryoung noted. “With learning, you begin at a higher motivation point, allowing the students to become active participants in the learning process as opposed to having an instructor force-feed them the material.”

If you think none of this applies to trucking, think again, for this focus on “learning” is something my editorial compatriot, Tim Brady, stresses over and over again in his work. As the business editor of American Trucker magazine and veteran owner-operator with over two decades of experience out on the road, Brady believes “learning” is the key for helping smaller operators to develop the products and services that’ll win them freight on the market.

“If you describe an independent trucker as a true entrepreneur who has done his research, sees a niche the big carriers either can’t or are unwilling to fill, and has spent the time developing a business plan: his company and others like it will grow into the medium and large carriers of the future,” he said in a recent post on his Blog4Truckers site.

“I work with trucking entrepreneurs on a daily basis. The successful ones (and there are many) are providing logistic services with which the big companies can’t even begin to compete,” he noted. “The entrepreneurial truckers with their skill, knowledge and determination have the big carriers beat hands down when it comes to quality of service.”

Brady’s point is that if a trucking company doesn’t know what it costs to provide a service, have a plan on how the company is going to grow, understand the market they service and know how to set a hauling rate range that is competitive in the market they choose – if they haven’t learned how to do all this correctly, as it were – then they will fail.

“But listening and researching how to improve your operation will increase efficiency,” he stressed. “Succeeding in trucking isn’t only what your credit rating is or what your company’s Dunn & Bradstreet Report looks like. It has to do with what you know, how much revenue your company produces against your costs, what your accounts receivable look like, and also the quality and diversity of your customers must be considered. “

Being successful, Brady said, is not robbing Peter to pay Paul, but managing your assets: cash, equipment, property, accounts receivable, customers, employees and contractors, with a plan – a plan developed from all a trucker has learned about the business environment, the freight market, the needs of customers, etc.

“We all know this establishes the foundation of your business, but a foundation is nothing more than a base from which to build,” he added. “You must continue placing stone after stone on this foundation, thus building the walls of success for your trucking business.”

Something to think about, as my friend Brady always says.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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