Defining “Training”

I often go back to basics when it comes to approaching any training session that I conduct.

I start by considering the audience and how I would enable them to participate and engage in the learning process. This typically comes in a form of establishing a common definition to the words that I will use frequently in delivering the content. I believe that if the words used has a common understanding, then we get to minimise the risk of misinterpretations.

What is Training?

I usually start my Train-The-Trainer session by asking the question, “What is training?”

And the responses I get are often quite interesting.

Rarely I ask this question for the sake of just getting an answer. I ask this question more as a pulse check to see how my fellow trainers define training.

“Training is a systematic process that enables learning and practice to take place with a clear objective to invoke change in the competency of another strategically through appropriate and acceptable methods.”

This is my current definition of training, and here is why;

Systematic process

Training does not happen by chance. It is also neither an accidental process nor a spontaneous incident. There is a large amount of planning involved in selecting the right input, with conscious decisions made on the strategy to produce the desired output.

Enable learning and practice

Training is implemented to enable learning to take place. However, learning alone is not enough. There must be conscious effort to allow the participants of the training session to apply and/or practice what they have learned. This is especially critical for skill-based topic where the application of the lesson is crucial to the effectiveness of the learning process.

Clear objective

If you are not sure of where you are heading, you will end up going around in circles. A clear training objective provides the trainer with a clear end-goal to aim for. This will help the trainer to make the right decisions on how to strategize the learning process. As for the learners, a clear objective will allow them to know what output is expected from the session.

Invoke change

A good trainer does not force the learning to happen. Instead, they invite and appeal to the participants’ own desire to want to gain new knowledge, improve their skills and consider new behaviour that would bring themselves benefits.


The whole point of training is to focus on the competency elements – what enables the person to be able to carry out the task better, namely the knowledge, the skills and/or the behaviour. We try not to get involve with the emotions, beliefs, character, and other psychological aspects of the learner.


Each activity in the learning process must be appropriate, useful, and purposeful to achieve the targeted lesson. The trainer must make a conscious decision on the “what”, “why” and “how-to” of the training session.

Appropriate and acceptable methods

A trainer is the “bearer of knowledge” and this is a noble role. A noble man would not belittle, embarrass, or force the learner to do meaningless unorthodox actions with the excuse that it is his or her unique way of imparting knowledge or skills.

My hypothesis is, if all trainers could agree to this definition, then we have a strong chance of improving the training industry and uplift the standard to the next level. If not, we will always bicker on the wrong things and keep going around in circles.

From Andragogy to Heutagogy

In the past few weeks I’ve come to realise a very interesting discovery in the way people, including myself, learn when we have extra time on our hands.

The pandemic has forced many to stay indoors and consequently, brought upon us a huge opportunity to learn new knowledge, skills and change of behaviour.

Prior to this, I often talk about “Andragogy” – the adult learning theory which focuses on the shift from dependent learning to self-directed learning (Malcolm Knowles, 1975). Commonly associated with training due to the nature of the learners’ age (in comparison to “Pedagogy” or child learning theory often associated with learning in school), “Andragogy” had always been the go to reference when dealing with learners’ who are more matured in nature.

Key traits of adult learners’ include the ability to choose what they want to learn (self-directed), they learn because of the need to solve problems that they face (problem-centric) and the influence of background experience in the speed of their learning. This has so far been a great impact to designing and delivering training programmes for a majority of working adults’ competency building.

However, training as a form of ensuring learning occurs, still remains to be partly initiated by the employers rather than the individual employees themselves. The employees may have an interest to learn a new skill or knowledge in certain areas, but final say still lies within the decision of the top management. Hence, most training programmes are organised based on the needs of the business.

So, when does learning becomes truly 100% the decision of the individual?

This is where the lockdown duration has expedite “Heutagogy” – a learning theory which is based on “self-determined learning” (Hase and Kenyon, 2000).

We now live in the age where learning resources are abundance. Technology advancement has made the average worker to have at least a basic smartphone and an acceptable internet speed connection in their home. Pair that with time on their hands during lockdown or self-quarantine, and we have an ideal condition for “Heutagogy” to happen.

“Heutagogy” kicks things up a notch from “Andragogy” as self-determined learning means the responsibility of application is now driven by the individual themselves. In “Heutagogy”, the learners’ determination is driven from the desire to do something to achieve a desired goal. It doesn’t necessarily require a linear approach nor does it require a single source of instruction. Because the focus is on building a capability (ability to achieve desired outcome) the learner is the true driver of the learning process (autonomous).

Here’s a simple example of “Heutagogy” taking place. You want to start a personal website with a blog. Due to the restrictions, there are no training programmes that you can attend to learn this. Your next best option is to search for video tutorials on YouTube. You start with the most obvious question, “How to start a personal website with a blog?” This leads you on a scavenger hunt to find the right videos that addresses the issues that you face as you start building your website. At times, you may also divert into something that seems to be off topic like “How to remove backgrounds in my photos?” – but this happens because you needed nice picture for you blog profile. And at the end of it all, you now have a functional blog on the web. You are happy and now slightly capable of sharing that website building experience with others.

So, if you have learned something new by your own choice and free will during the duration of lockdown or self-quarantine, and now, after several weeks, have made it into something that you are capable of doing, then congratulations my friend, you too are a prime example of “Heutagogy” in action – an evidence that the “self-determined learning theory” is true.

Now the next question is, how does this change the training landscape for the time to come?

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the comment section below.