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Training vs. Learning: do you want to train? Or have someone learn?

Monday, 15 February 2021


Did you ever wonder why training fails so often? When important material, meant to improve or educate, is not learned or acted upon? Why perfectly smart people keep doing the same things that didn’t work the first time?

The problem is the training model. Current training models are designed to offer and present data, not help folks learn. Let me explain.

Using conventional training models, only those who are predisposed, only those who have beliefs aligned with the new material will learn. Others may endeavor to learn during their classroom study but may not permanently adopt it. The problem isn’t the value of information or the eagerness of the learner: It’s a problem with both the training model itself and the way learners learn. It’s Learning is a systems/change problem.


We all live our lives, stabilized and congruent because of our unique, internal systems, ruled by our mental models (rules, beliefs, history etc.) that form the foundation of who we are and determine our choices, behaviors and habits.

Indeed, our behaviors are the vehicles that represent these internal systems – our beliefs in action, if you will. So as a Buddhist I wouldn’t learn to shoot a gun, but if someone were to try to kill my family I’d shift the hierarchy of my beliefs to put ‘family’ above ‘Buddhist’ and ‘shooting a gun’ might be within the realm of possibility. Obviously, without shifting my beliefs, I would resist information about guns.

Because anything new is a threat to our unconscious, habitual and carefully organized internal system (part of our limbic brain), we instinctively defend ourselves against anything ‘foreign’ that might seek to enter.

I have spent decades unpacking change and the learning change entails. I’ve realized that learning doesn’t start from outside, from knowledge or information. For real change (like learning something new) to occur, our system must buy-in to the new or it will be automatically resisted – not because it’s wrong or bad, but because there is no ‘system’ in place in our brains to make sense of it.

And here is where current training models fail to engage learning. Our brains are programmed to maintain our status quo and resist anything new regardless of the efficacy or importance of the new material. Much like a sales pitch, training offers good data – and learners, like buyers, may not be able to congruently make the brain change the new information requires.

But there is another way to go about training that incorporates real, systemic change. Let’s begin by examining the training model itself.


The current training model assumes that if new material

  • is recognized as important, rational, and useful,
  • is offered in a logical, informative, interesting way,
  • allows time for experience and practice,
  • offers enough experiential learning,

it will become accepted and habituated. But these assumptions are faulty. At an unconscious level, this model attempts to push something foreign into a closed system (our status quo) that is perfectly happy as it is: it might be adopted briefly, but if it opposes our habituated norm, it will show up as a threat and be resisted. This is the same problem faced when sellers attempt to place a new solution, or doctors attempt to change the habits of ill patients.

Until or unless the unconscious system that holds our beliefs and values and habits in place is ready, willing, and able to adopt the new material, any change will not be permanent and learners will resist. Effective training must change beliefs first.


To avoid resistance and support adoption, training must enable

  1. buy-in from the belief/system status;
  2. the system to discover its own areas of lack and create an acceptable opening for change

before the new material is offered.

I had a problem to resolve when designing my first Buying Facilitation® training program in 1983. Because my content ran counter to an industry norm (sales), I had to help learners overcome a set of standardized beliefs and accepted processes endemic to the field. To accomplish this, I developed a learning model to begin the process of changing core, unconscious, beliefs.

My training design is called Learning Facilitation. I’ve used this model successfully for decades. (See my paper in The 2003 Annual: Volume 1 Training [Jossey-Bass/Pfieffer]: “Designing Curricula for Learning Environments Using a Facilitative Teaching Approach to Empower Learners” pp 263-272). Here’s how I design courses:

  • Day 1 helps learners recognize the components of their unconscious status quo while identifying areas where new skills would be necessary for greater excellence. Once they recognize exactly what is missing among their current skill sets, and they determine what, specifically, they need to add to achieve excellence, then they are ready to learn. I do not begin by offering the new information; I begin with facilitating brain change. After all, if learners don’t have a place, don’t have neural pathways and circuits to adopt anything new, they won’t learn new information.
  • Day 2 enables learners to create a route in their brains – a new neural pathway – to congruently supplement their current skills, then tests for, and manages, acceptance and resistance. Only then does new knowledge get introduced and practiced.

Course material is designed with ‘learning’ in mind (rather than content sharing/behavior change), and looks quite different from conventional training. For example Day 1 uses no desks, no notes, and no lectures and focuses on brain acceptance. I teach learners how to enlist their unconscious to facilitate unconscious buy-in for new material.

Whether it’s my training model or your own, just ask yourself: Do you want to train? Or have someone learn? They are two different activities.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.