4. Learning without training

So far, we’ve talked a lot about training, training courses or sessions and their practicalities. That’s because you often need to, or are being asked to deliver a course or session. You need to know what you’re doing on that, and how to make it worthwhile.

There are lots of other ways of learning, away from training though. As a manager or adviser, many of these will be open to you. They may be quicker, they may be cheaper, and they may be more effective. Just remember that often more structured training can be the fastest, most effective way of learning.

Coaching is a more subtle process. Often you are helping people to find their own solutions to specific challenges they face.

Advantages of coaching:

Each session can be quick

Flexible – can find a time that works; if that is morning, lunch or evening, it isn’t so critical

Directly targeted for application – based on solving real problems the person is currently facing


Disadvantages of coaching:

Needs extended time – weeks or months

Doesn’t really scale – needs one on one work

Easy to slip into “telling” rather than coaching

Easy to slip into “doing for” rather than coaching – especially if you’re managing the person

Needs some time and practice to learn how to coach effectively (but not more than learning to train)

People learn a lot on the job, from colleagues, managers and others

Advantages of learning on the job:

Real-life solutions

Doesn’t require time to be set aside

Apply it straight away, so likely to remember it

Have a direct, immediate impact on improving work

Disadvantages of learning on the job:

May miss critical pieces of how to perform well

Difficult if everyone is new – who do you learn from?

Easy to perpetuate mistakes and bad practices

Miss “best” ways of doing things – get to average rather than outstanding

If the office is weak in a specific area, can’t improve through on the job learning

A huge amount of information and tutorials are available for free online. YouTube is full of instructional videos on everything from pivot tables to bicycle repair – both of which could be vital! Books and references are available on many important topics in the sector.


Easy for staff – they can learn at their own pace

Easy for staff – they don’t have to admit to a weakness to a manager or colleague

Easy for staff – they are already familiar with the approaches

Cheap or free

Just in time – staff learn when they need to know. Typically, they apply it right away.

Learn what they need to know – they won’t waste time on things they already know. They can skip through a book to the chapter they need.



Can be distracting

Can’t guarantee quality or correctness – people may be learning the wrong thing

Can’t be sure of comprehensiveness – the learner may meet an immediate need, but miss something critical

Generic by nature – unlikely to be adapted for the CARE context, or for the specific challenges

Can be hard to apply to their context – it may be abstract.

Needs a good internet connection or access to books/materials that will often be hard to find.

No guarantee of finding something in the right language for learners.

CARE Academy has online learning courses for CARE staff and partners. Other providers in the sector also have free resources (Kaya, Disaster Ready) and there are also other sites (Alison.com, Coursera, FutureLearn) that have useful free resources.


A lot is available for free

Both sector specific and general content is available

Learners can make them fit around their own schedule



Long ones can be boring

Completion rates are often low

The content may not be specific or relevant enough

Quality can be low – may be better to read a report or book!

Requires reasonable internet access

In communities of practice, people with similar job profiles, responsibilities or interests come together to share experiences, challenges and lessons. It can be more structured – with common assignments, reading lists, or reflection and application tasks. It can be less structured as primarily a forum for thoughts, ideas etc.


Can be organized through social media or messager app groups (e.g. WhatsApp or Skype)

Helps share new information quickly

Gives depth and background


Creates support and community for learners – a safe space to exchange ideas



Likely to stop functioning after some time without a moderator or facilitator to keep it together

Needs significant organizational effort and time commitment – from organizers and participants

May need participants to stick to a meeting schedule

Unlikely to learn specific skills or pieces of information

What a learner gets out of it will vary based on the group members.  Some groups may be very helpful or have a lot of ideas – others won’t

Not a fast process

This is particularly helpful for staff to understand what good performance looks like. This is a vital and overlooked part of helping staff learn.


Happening anyway (hopefully!)

Can be right on time

Should be very specific and applied right away

Get a clear understanding of how they compare to the performance CARE wants

Can change things quickly



May not focus enough on learning – tendency to assume telling is enough

May tend towards criticism, which is unlikely to motivate people

May tend towards not addressing issues to preserve a relationship, which reduces learning

Difficult for learners – it may be hard for them to admit to weaknesses or seek help from a direct line manager

One way to learn is by taking on a (temporary) assignment outside the current responsibilities – perhaps in a more senior position, or in a different department or team


Natural way of learning

Highly motivating – benefits the individual and their career as a whole

Provides rich experience with new and different perspectives

Can see the challenges others are facing, get an appreciation for their colleagues work – at a level that would be impossible through other approaches

Continue to contribute whilst learning



An opportunity may not be available when needed

Learning is unlikely to be structured. If a specific skill is needed, that may not be learned.

Hard to scale if multiple people need the same skills or experiences

Often confusing about cost charging

Not a “safe” learning environment – mistakes have real-world consequences