Senior Strategist

How to Tell the Difference between Coaching and Training

Coaching and training are used interchangeably so often that it leads many to believe there’s no difference between coaching and training. Add mentoring and consulting into the mix and it gets even more confusing.

In reality, there’s a big difference between training and coaching. It’s important to understand when and where each strategy works best so you can develop a learning strategy that uses the right tool for the right content. When it comes to developing your team members, it’s critical to understand whether they need coaching vs. training to grow and develop their skills.

Training and coaching both have a role to play in effective learning, but they offer distinct benefits for the learner. Because of that, training and coaching should be treated as independent development tactics that can complement one another. When coaching and training are used in tandem to develop your people, it can unlock huge benefits for company culture and overall outcomes.

So, what is the difference between coaching and training? Let’s dig into the strengths of each strategy, when to use them, and how to use both to take your organizational learning to the next level.

What is the difference between training and coaching?

First, let’s break down what the coaching and training difference is really all about. Each approach has distinct goals and outcomes, and it’s critical to understand them before deciding how to proceed. Here’s what you need to know about training vs. coaching.

What is training?

Training is about developing a specific skill with the purpose of improvement. Usually, training is designed and implemented for a group—think new product training for your sales team or a procedure overview for medical personnel.

The output of training is to achieve knowledge transfer at scale. Let’s say you’re hosting a typical classroom training with twenty-five students and one teacher. In a perfect world, that one teacher walks away from the training having created twenty-five “copies” of their knowledge.

Here’s a quick rundown of the typical traits of training

  • Knowledge transfer
  • Teaching new information
  • Often used in group settings
  • Structured and often synchronous
  • One-time event or short-lived
  • Learning focused

What is coaching?

Coaching, on the other hand, is a development strategy that relies on having one-on-one access to a person with experience—in other words, a coach. Coaching connects subject matter experts with beginners. Coaching takes into account the specific performance of the individual being coached and then provides tailored direction. Coaching is about listening, suggesting, and working together on a plan that provides accountability and tailored direction.

Often, coaching is a post-training follow up strategy. Coaching helps quickly troubleshoot and overcome the nuanced variables that present themselves once you get into the weeds and start applying what you’ve learned from training. It’s not practical to design a training to address every single edge case that may come up, and that’s where coaching comes in.

Here’s a quick rundown of the typical traits of coaching

  • Enhancing skills and knowledge
  • Usually one-on-one
  • Tailored and individualized support
  • Informal, conversational, and relational
  • Practicing and applying skills
  • Development focused
  • Often targets more experienced team members

When to use coaching vs. training

Now that we know the difference between coaching and training, let’s talk about when and where to use each approach.

When to use training

Use training when there is a limited baseline of knowledge among a group or team. Training is a great strategy for building knowledge at scale. When there’s a need for learning or practicing new skills, training is the right strategy. For example, if you have a group of new employees starting at your company, try designing a training session to set them up for success.

It’s equally important to consider the timing of your training. Usually, training is most successful at the beginning of your overall development plan so that you can build a baseline of good habits. Starting at the group level sets a strong scaffolding of understanding before you delve into individualized support for each learner.

When to use coaching

Use coaching to meet the individual needs of your learners and provide personal, ongoing support. Coaching is a great way to meet learners where they are. More than likely, your learners will come to the initial training with diverse backgrounds and experiences, which means the individual challenges they encounter will vary widely, too. Coaching is the most effective strategy for providing tailored feedback and reflection, and working together to develop a growth plan.

Use coaching immediately after training to build on what your people have already learned. Coaching isn’t about telling someone what to do, it’s a long-term tool for facilitating learner-driven growth. Coaching is highly relational and best done in real time—you can get it done remotely, but ideally you’ll meet in-person.

Why you need to use both coaching and training

There’s a time and place for both coaching and training, but the most effective learning strategies leverage both. Is your organization striking the right balance of coaching vs. training? Let’s take a look at how to bring these two strategies together to develop and empower your people.

Training lays the foundation

Not sure if your content calls for training or coaching? Use training when you’re introducing new concepts, procedures that require practice, or teaching facts that need to be memorized. Remember that not all training needs to take place in a traditional classroom setting—asynchronous learning can be a great way to share foundational knowledge that all learners need to have.

Coaching tailors the training

If training is step one, then coaching is step two. After the initial knowledge transfer is complete, coaching helps learners improve their skills and evolve beyond the ‘OK plateau.’ During and after training, a coach can help reinforce key points and leverage their experience to give personalized guidance to learners.

This individualized and ongoing reinforcement is the best way to achieve sustainable, positive behavior change—a hallmark of effective learning.

Learning goes beyond coaching and training

Coaching and training are both effective learning strategies, but it’s important to remember that learning is about the why. It’s not enough to simply host a training session and make a coach available.

Take the time to think through your learning goals, get to know your learner audience, and identify the right learning elements for your content.

Effective learning aims to empower and inspire real, meaningful, long-term change in the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of learners. That’s how we grow our learners and ultimately, how organizations reach their fullest potential.

What do learners need at different stages of the learning process?

The Learning Ecology Matrix is a framework for selecting the right learning elements for your learning experience.

See the matrix
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