Culture Clash
Future Executive Directors Fellowship at the Nonprofit Roundtable

Learning in Academic vs. Corporate Settings

Cathy Moore left an excellent comment on my recent Culture Clash post that I think is worthy of being elevated to post level. It captures very well some of the key differences between those who work with learners in academic settings and those who work in corporate settings. Here it is:

The corporate world does both "education" ("Am I making an ethical choice?") and "training" ("Which button should I push?"). So it might be most useful to refer to the audiences as "academic" and "corporate" rather than "education" and "training."

In my experience, a major difference between the two realms is the different amount of emphasis they place on using new knowledge in the real world.

I've designed elearning for the K-12 market and have written course plans for teachers in grades 6-12. Now I work almost entirely in corporate elearning.

My academic clients tended to focus on knowledge in the abstract: They wanted lots of concepts but not a huge amount of application, except to test that the learner understood the concepts. The application of the concepts tended to be abstract, such as answering questions on a test or basing new concepts on the first. The learners were not expected to immediately apply the knowledge to their lives.

The corporate clients usually want both concepts and behavior change. They want learners to be able to apply the concepts in the real world, such as determining if a cross-border financial trade they have been offered is ethical and legal.

These differences become important when I write or present, because the academics in the audience don't always "get" the corporate need to design information so it will be acted on (like my "action mapping" model). The academics are more comfortable with organizing and presenting the information as information rather than as future actions. This can result in a lecture-style delivery that isn't popular in the corporate world.

A lot of my work involves helping corporate educators move away from the academic model to create significantly tighter, more actionable materials.

At the same time, I think the corporate world can learn a lot from academicians' experiments with social learning and user-created materials. While I understand corporations' need for control over information, I think they would benefit if they would loosen their grip on the learner.

Another interesting series of comments on the same post came from Ken Allen, who sees a big difference between "education" and "training," having spent some time on both sides.  You can find them here and here as well as a follow-up post he wrote on his own blog here.

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