How to Tell the Difference Between Coaching and Training

Coaching and training are often used interchangeably, and that leads to confusion, especially when words like “mentoring” and “counseling” are added to the mix. It’s not so much that managers don’t know the differences between coaching and training but that so many of their actions imply that they don’t.

Defining the difference

Just to put us all on the same page, let’s make the distinction between coaching and training right up front. Essentially,  (or skills)—development, in other words.

For example, one may have basic culinary knowledge that acts as a foundation onto which is layered general training about how to make, let’s say, a soufflé. Not all soufflés are created equal, however. And chances are, the fiftieth soufflé a learner makes will be a lot more satisfactory than the first.

Clearly, a person can be trained to make a soufflé and turn out an acceptable textbook creation. It is also true that practice over time will improve the result. But consider the impact of coaching from a veteran soufflé maker. It will be the tips, tricks, and secrets of a seasoned coach that will propel the newbie’s soufflés from OK to Oh My!

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Comparing coaching and training side-by-side

The following is a quick summary of the major differences between training and coaching.


  • Transferring knowledge
  • Often used in group setting
  • Frequently off-site or at a special facility
  • Often used for new hires
  • Usually structured
  • Formal
  • Depends on telling
  • Learning focused


  • Enhancing knowledge or skills
  • Usually one-on-one
  • Usually on-the-job
  • More often used with experienced employees
  • Usually unstructured
  • Informal, conversational
  • Depends on asking
  • Development focused

Obviously, coaching is a way to apply learning in an informed way. Training hopes that learners will remember knowledge so it can be applied. In the case of sales reps, remembering and being able to apply knowledge will improve performance and productivity. More sales. Bigger smiles. All is well.

Moving coaching up the priority ladder

The only problem is that humans don’t remember very well. Research shows an average of 50 percent of the information received in a presentation is forgotten within one hour. After 24 hours, on average, 70 percent is gone. And within a week a staggering 90 percent is nowhere to be found.

Since the best coaches do so frequently and on an ongoing basis, coaching is one way to impact the fact that even the best of employees will simply not remember valuable information. Training is not enough. So we’ll say it again: It’s not so much that managers don’t know the differences between coaching and training but that so many of their actions imply that they don’t.

Perhaps no one really thinks or says aloud, “Why should I invest time, effort and money in coaching someone who has already been trained?” But when coaching is nonexistent, haphazard, inadequately funded, or rests several rungs from the top of the priority ladder, this might as well be what is said.

A tango for two

Certainly, training can’t do the job on its own. And coaching, applied without the foundation of basic prior knowledge, won’t succeed either. Great information retention and application requires both coaching and training in equal measures. Maybe if some of the 87.6 billion spent annually on corporate training were redistributed and reprioritized to reflect a training/coaching mix, the ROI would be a lot more satisfying.

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