Cloud 14 – Differences between structured learning in a traditional classroom setting and learning in organizations

In this blog I will highlight four differences between structured learning in a traditional classroom setting and learning in organizations. There are more differences. Neither will I focus on the overlap between the two.

 Traditional classroom settingOrganizational context
Background of the learnerUnder-experienced


Formal learning as a right.
Experienced or already trained

Formal learning as an acknowledgement.
Main learning goalLeaning is to form the learner.Learning is to transform the learner to fit in.
Time-horizonLong-term effectsShort-term effects
Main level of learning outcomePrimarily at the individual level due to didactical processes.Primarily at the organizational level due to socialization processes.

Beware that the differences, summarized in the table above, are not always clear-cut. For example, learning in a traditional classroom setting occurs at about 10% in organizations, according to the well-known 70:20:10 rule. Similarly social learning processes are equally important in traditional classroom settings.

First, in a traditional classroom setting, most participants still have to learn the basics, mature and lack relevant working experience. Students are grouped without a clue of their future careers. Traditional classroom education is often subsidized by government to sustain the national economy and society. Learning is a fundamental right. Hence the main learning goal is to form and to prepare for a unknown future. Students are expected to absorb, and accumulate as much knowledge and competences as possible. 

On the contrary, structured learning in organizations is preserved for hires. Employees generally have already had extensive training or working experience. The extra training in the organizational context often involves transforming the experience of employees to fit in. It can range from tweaking their experience to unlearning before being able to learn new things. The employer invests in training because the business context is evolving, staff is maturing and being renewed, or working relations have changed. Whatever reason, employees are trained to do the job. The expected learning outcome is specific and well planned in time. 

A final difference that I highlight here, is that in a classroom setting the most relevant learning outcome is at the student level because students will each follow their way after graduation. On the contrary in organizations, individual learning outcomes after training are only partially relevant; the employer ultimately expects that what is learnt is applied at the workplace. Moreover, when trained individuals apply what is (un)learned, they will set in motion new social learning process in their workplace. Since the trained individual should ideally lever something into the organizational contexts, the impact goes beyond the individual level. Hence structured learning in organizations should also trigger new learning among his peers of the course participants. 

dr. Tom De Schryver,

Associate Professor Internal Control and Trade Compliance, Netherlands Defence Academy & EAPRIL Board Member with focus on organizational and strategic learning