Magazine article Computers in Libraries

What (How, Where, When, Why) Is Training?

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

What (How, Where, When, Why) Is Training?

Article excerpt

D. Scott Brandt is technology training librarian at Purdue University Libraries in West Lafayette, Indiana. He has won several awards and frequently speaks at professional conferences. His e-mail address is

Recently I had someone e-mail me and ask if I could define the difference between training and instruction or teaching. I had made some remarks at a conference regarding such a distinction, and this person asked me to expand on it. I have to confess that I get into arguments (that is, academic debates) over this topic with several of my colleagues here at Purdue University. I feel justified doing this because I have written in research papers about the application of cognitive theory and constructivism to training. In addition, I've won an award of recognition for training (at MIT in 1991) and I've been a practitioner for the last 5 years, so I feel like I do have handle on what training is.

I do make a distinction between training of a traditional kind and what I tend to call "conceptual" training. Some of my colleagues argue that this latter is akin to instruction, but I think a big distinction can be made there. Lately, I've been drawn into comparing training with teaching, and I'm beginning to see some aspects that overlap among the three. Let me describe each of these to share my perspective with you.

Traditional Training Tenets

Traditional training, to me, means learning how to deal with the mechanics of whatever it is you are working with, either to do work or to achieve a goal. It implies learning how to use tools, usually physical or electronic ones, to accomplish this work. My sister, for instance, operates a computerized lathe that turns out various specialized metal products (pins, screws, etc.). She had to be trained in how to set up the program that aligns the stock, prepares the path for the bits, and executes the steps to create the final product. Her expertise is very technical, although she also performs quality control and oversees other lathe operators. Her training required her to learn the mechanics of how the tools are utilized to produce a specific product. The product design, size, shape, etc. may change, but the tools are used consistently to perform similar work in a continuous fashion. (I admire her very much, by the way--I flunked ninth grade shop because I was deathly afraid of those machines.)

When I train people on how to use word processing or database management or spreadsheet software, I look at it the same way. Any of these given packages is a tool, or set of tools, that will be used to accomplish work in a continuous fashion. The product may be a form letter for reserves, or a table of journal articles, or a student budget spreadsheet, but the focus of the training is on the mechanics, and even mastery, of the tools used to create these products. Organizations such as the American Society of Training & Development (ASTD, have long upheld standards (such as applying instructional systems design techniques) for training. The emphasis on such training is on performance assessment and outcomes--how (fast, well, etc.) was someone able to create products (letters, files, etc.) based on the training? In my academic setting, we measure outcome through a performance management system that ultimately leaves it to a supervisor to measure the success of the training by change in ove rall performance.

However, there are some other factors that come into play when training people to use a Web browser. As I've noted in previous articles, the very nature of the Web (unlike lathes or word processing programs) is that its infrastructure is frail and constantly changing. It is nearly impossible to learn how to use the tools of a Web browser and be consistently successful--because of how error prone and unforgiving the Web is. What is needed is some additional understanding of the technology--enough at least to help when problems are encountered. …

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