Workplace Development Programs: Training? or Education? by Louis Hayes

The more I study and learn how humans complete tasks, solve problems, and seize opportunities, the more convinced I become we need to change the design of our human development programs – by accounting for the differences between training and education.

Handcuffing criminals. Driving squad cars. Identifying mental illness. Querying computer databases. Finding missing children. Packaging evidence. Interviewing witnesses. Interrogating suspects. Returning found property. Filing written reports. Comforting grieving families. Testifying in court. Searching dark buildings. Shining shoes. Breaking up street corner groups. Shooting guns. Making traffic stops. Quelling domestic squabbles. Requesting vacation days. Protecting crime scenes. Responding to armed gunmen. Patrolling community parks….

This list of responsibilities of an American police officer is absolutely incomplete. This is my world: law enforcement. Maybe it’s your field too. Regardless, EVERY organization, industry, or field has a laundry list of roles and responsibilities…some as diverse as the above set required by police officers. Look at my list (or make your own list!) and categorize each item into one of two groups: Technical or Adaptive challenges. Consider these clarifications:

Technical challenges are structured or predictable, requiring analysis and cognition. They can be completed by following step-by-step instructions, like checklists or flowcharts. Technical challenges can be repetitive and display elements of standardization. They have little tolerance for deviance from established rules. Technical troubleshooting is defined as obedience to established “if-then” responses. Technical skills are tested by performing in accordance to norms. In scientific terms, they tend to progress as linear, closed-loop, non-feedback receiving situations. Technical challenges need management.

On the other hand, Adaptive challenges are free-flowing and unpredictable, requiring intuition. There are no rules to follow, but rather a flexible, organic set of guidelines or parameters. Adaptive challenges can be once-in-a-lifetime sort of occurrences. They require creative thinking and imagination. An adaptive mindset is one that continually forecasts possible options and contingency plans. Adaptive abilities are tested by probing for understanding and application of concept or principle. In scientific terms, they unfold unexpectedly as non-linear, open-loop, feedback-rich developments. Adaptive challenges need leadership.




Few tasks, problems, or opportunities can be categorized as entirely technical or entirely adaptive; some blend elements of both. But most challenges fall nearer one end of the technical-adaptive spectrum. And this means that we as trainers, educators, and instructors must understand how adults learn….more importantly, the differences in learning technical skills versus adaptive abilities.

It wasn’t until I understood these differences and re-engineered my program that I began to see results in my student learners (….maybe a blog post for another day!). Technical challenges require demonstration, practice, repetition, comparison, and knowledge….and multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank tests. Adaptive challenges require thinking, discussion, small groups, ownership, and unstructured time….and essay answers or sketches. I’ve seen dramatic, positive changes in the performance and abilities of our people since instituting these adjustments. You can too.

Whether you run a factory assembly line, or a military unit, or an art studio, or a baseball franchise, or an investment firm, or a sales team, your workplace or organization DOES have both types of challenges.

What are you doing in your organization to account for the differences in technical skill and adaptive ability development?

How do you separate developmental or teaching methods into training or education? Tell us your story.

Hayes - squareLouis Hayes is a systems thinker and curriculum designer for The Virtus Group, Inc., a firm dedicated to the development of public safety leadership. He is a 17-year police officer in Chicagoland, with current responsibilities in training and policy. Lou is a co-developer of The Illinois Model law enforcement operations system and teaches a suite of courses rooted in its theory and concepts. A full compilation of articles on The Illinois Model can be found here.