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Most of the time, when people talk about leadership or employee development they use words like training, coaching and mentoring interchangeably.

While all of these development techniques can help improve specific skills, they do so in different (although sometimes complementary) ways.

Let’s define coaching vs mentoring vs training and explore the similarities and differences between them, so you can leverage the right aspect of people development at the right time.

What is coaching?

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) has training coaching as one of its priorities. They define the practice of coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

In the workplace, coaching is often part of leadership development. Executives often hire business coaches to help them reach their full potential. At the same time, CEOs and senior management can act as internal coaches for other employees, especially when they practice a transformational leadership style.

We’ve written before about the differences between transformational and transactional leadership styles. The definitive book on the matter is A Casebook of Transformational and Transactional Leadership by Fil J. Arenas.

A coach focuses on personal and professional fulfillment. You can find overall life coaches as well as ones that work in fitness and nutrition industries, for example.

Coaching can also be a thriving standalone business if you have a good business model and know how to scale it effectively.

What is mentoring?

Unlike coaching, which often focuses on short term improvements in specific skills, mentoring is a relationship with an expert in their field and is meant to help you develop yourself as a professional over the long term.

Most commonly, mentoring relationships form at work, where more experienced employees help those who are just starting out. At the same time, you can find mentoring programs that bring together experts from multiple organizations.

Mentoring can be both coach-like in its guidance and very specific like training when required.

What is training?

Training is about transferring experiences and knowledge from a trainer to a trainee in order to reach specific, pre-defined goals. In that way, training is a more structured and formal development path.

Training can be done in a group environment, such as workshops and classes, as well as individually. The length of training can also vary from online courses that can last a few hours to longer term university programs that can span years.

Quite often, training programs exist within organizations, helping employees with career development, honing leadership skills and achieving their goals.

Unlike coaching and mentoring, training lacks long-term oversight. Once the training is complete, trainees are left on their own to incorporate all the new knowledge. So it’s critical to ensure that the training is done at the right time, giving trainees the opportunity to practice their newly acquired skills right away.

Read more on the importance of training.

Coaching vs mentoring vs training: Which one do I need?  

If you know that you’d like to get better, when should you go for coaching, mentoring, or training?

In general, training can be used to improve a specific skill in a short amount of time. Coaching usually takes longer, whereas mentoring can last several years.

In A Handbook of Leadership Styles, Deniz Dirik argues that leaders should incorporate coaching in their work to be more effective: “Leadership requires a more communicative and participative approach incorporating a comparatively more flexible and encouraging attitude.”

Mentorship, on the other hand, comes from more senior coworkers, whereas training happens in a more professional environment.

Finally, the focus of coaching is mostly on performance, mentorship is meant to celebrate overall competency, whereas the emphasis in training is on skills.

Coaching

Mentoring

Training

TypeFormalInformalProfessional
TimeLonger termLong termShort term
EmphasisPerformanceCompetencySkills
FacilitatorLeaderExpertTeacher

 

Related: What Is the difference between Transactional and Transformational Leadership?

How to translate development approaches to online courses

If you’re running an online course, it’s likely that you’re promising better skills as the primary outcome. In other words, you’re providing training. However, you can also use your course as a way to introduce your longer term services, whether they relate to coaching or mentoring.

What you need for a good start is an effective instructional model, such as a 70-20-10 Rule, for example. In addition, ensure that your LMS is robust enough to include all the learning features you’d like to see.

Thinkific makes the process of creating, selling and managing your online course intuitive and easy. You don’t need to know how to code to create a course — just start with a professionally-designed template and use a drag-and-drop editor to customize it for your needs.

Start today for free and make instant progress in your coaching, mentoring or training practice.