Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Acquiring Knowledge vs. Task Completion: Professional Development or Training?

Conferences, seminars, workshops, webinars, professional associations, professional affiliations required, suggested, encouraged, supported – as professionals we are usually provided training (often on the job) to successfully complete the positions we are hired to perform, yet are we often provided and do we take advantage of the opportunity for professional development?

Professional development expands our skills and knowledge base in practical ways that are applicable to the true role of a professional, in any position and throughout our careers.  Both training and professional development have valuable roles in our field.  We believe that there is often confusion regarding training and professional development with people assuming that they are the same and provide similar benefits to the work that we do.

Taking the approach that both are necessary, we acknowledge that understanding the two areas and why they are required for success in your career is important. There is a clear difference in how we utilize what we learn in each venue, one is a day to day approach and is task oriented; the other improves your approach to your work and how we perform as professionals.

Below, both are operationally defined for this article.

Training: defined activities geared toward learning the specifics of your position, the “what to do when” that leads to task completion.  Training is often provided within your institution or by other professionals well versed in the target area or information being taught.  Training can be viewed as the pragmatic approach being applied to the particular situation.

 Professional Development: the acquisition and integration of knowledge that underscores your approach to any position or situation and provides the “why and how to do it” that is the foundation of professionalism in everything that you do.  Professional development occurs at conferences, within professional associations or from colleagues and mentors that share their experience and perspective; it can be viewed as the theoretical based approach applied to the practical situation.

Review the following differences in the examples provided below:

Training: increases your ability to understand and perform the task at hand.
Professional Development: increases your ability to utilize the proper approach and make the best use of your time and resources, it increases your efficiency.

Training: provides the rationale to ask the question, “what do I do now?”
Professional Development: provides the process to “why I am doing it and how do I do it?”

Training: helps to improve the ability to recognize a challenge.
Professional Development: helps to identify the approach to overcoming the challenge.

Professional development provides the foundation to increase in our work the level of competency, the noted efficiency and professional approach necessary to continue to move forward in your career versus “keeping your job”. The key benefits of being active and involved in your professional associations and organizations will assist you beyond the normal “networking realm” and create skills and abilities that are transferrable and critical to both personal and professional life. 

Consider the following professional development opportunities:

Joining and Utilizing Membership within a Professional Association: membership is one thing, active membership is another. After paying your dues and “getting on the roster” become invested in the organization – read the constitution and by-laws, join a committee, become a Board member or officer – lead the charge – you have a responsibility as a professional to make sure that your membership is more than a few dollars and an occasional vote – it is a voice and example of the professional commitment to the work you do.

Active Participation in Workshops/Seminars: when attending a workshop or seminar, review the information, ask questions, plan to engage and be “present” during the session. In the current economic climate, attending professional conferences and seminars is becoming rare; when the opportunity presents itself to attend make the most of it! As a professional, share ideas and challenges as well as solutions, and never leave a workshop or seminar without at least three business cards – build that supportive network every chance you get.

Networking with Other Professionals: create a network of colleagues, within and external to your institution that you can have honest and direct dialogue with regularly.  Often our “academic islands” lead to stagnation and a sense of “being in this alone”. Change that situation by discussing best and promising practices, challenges in day to day duties and responsibilities and expand your understanding of professionalism.

Providing or Receiving Mentoring: successful mentoring relationships are reciprocal and help both mentors and mentees assess and understand the professional world from different perspectives and vantage points. Seeking appropriate and developmental mentor/mentee relationships will set the stage for growth and provide the opportunity to ask questions, collaborate, brainstorm ideas as well as share challenges and successes.

Set Goals: on a personal note, when establishing your goals for your professional development they must be realistic at the starting point, attainable within your abilities, achievable in your level of dedication, but most importantly, challenging. In order to gain the level of professionalism you are striving for, you must go beyond your comfort zone and be stretched; the resulting growth is yours and a testament to the field.

As professionals we often understand the need for training yet underestimate the importance of professional development.  The goal of this article was to highlight that training and professional development in concert create the well rounded professional who is competent in addressing the tasks and duties of his or her title and possesses the judgment and expertise necessary to do so with diligence and dedication. 

To continue the conversation, please feel free to contact us at the email addresses below.

Trent Ball, Associate Dean of Students (tball@semo.edu)
Valdis Zalite, Director of TRIO/Student Support Services (vzalite@semo.edu)
Academic Support Centers/TRIO
Southeast Missouri State University

Adapted from an article previously published in the ACPA’s Commission for Academic Support in Higher Education (CASHE) Corner Newsletter

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