What Being an RA Taught Me About the Difference Between Training and Development

Experiences shape us into who we are and prepare us for who we’re becoming. 

I’m still in shock that my fingers just typed out such a dramatic, Dove-chocolate-wrapper-esque sentence, but here’s the thing—I believe those words. Our experiences matter. Any they often surprise us.

I applied for my college job on a whim. I thought I’d like being a resident assistant (RA), so I applied at the end of my first year of school. I figured I could help future freshmen navigate college, maybe make some friends, and save money. 

Little did I know I was applying for a job that would challenge me and provide me with three years of personal and professional growth. RA-ing shaped how I empathize, resolve conflict, lead, work on a team, and manage my time. I’m convinced this job left such a mark on me because it was rooted in great training and development.

RA training was no joke. We came back early from every break during school for continuous training. My former coworker, CJ, and I just did the math—we’ve spent over two months of our lives in different types of training and development workshops, mock-scenarios, and sessions. Thankfully, training never looked quite the same, so we were always growing and changing.

Here are the two biggest training and development lessons I learned from my experience as an RA:


1. Educate first.

Hallelujah for patient trainers, right? I showed up on my first day of RA training excited to learn, but clueless as to how anything really worked. I felt the difference between education and training—and the difference between training and development—in real ways during those first weeks.  Meaningful development can’t happen without a baseline understanding of what’s going on. My first couple months on the job were packed with workshops, questions, and staff meetings to learn the in-the-weeds details of being a great RA.

My manager taught me all of the hard skills I needed to do the job. I learned tasks like handling lockouts, filling out maintenance request forms, and passing the on-call phone around correctly. I was trained to identify what qualifies as an emergency and what doesn’t, to care for residents in crisis, and to trade shifts with our coworkers using our scheduling management software.

By the end of my first year as an RA, I totally understood the technical parts of the job, so I knew it was time to shift my focus from tactical learning to continuous development, growing, and stretching myself in the role. And those things came with practice.


2. Practice by doing.

I will never forget the day I realized the importance of training and development as an RA.

One of my residents was having a mental health crisis, and instantly my training kicked in.  (Last month, one of Lessonly’s SDRs wrote a great blog post about how we’re not wired to rise to the occasion, but rather we fall to the level of our training, and that’s definitely what happened.)

Just a week earlier, I had completed a two-day learning intensive called “Behind Closed Doors” to learn how to handle the heavier, more serious scenarios of the job. Returning RAs and managers would act out common scenarios from the previous semester, allow new RAs to practice resolving them, and then provide training and coaching in response to their approaches. It was one of the most helpful components of training because it felt real—it wasn’t just the concept of training and development anymore. Without that training, I’m not sure how I would’ve handled the situation in front of me. 


Training shapes us.

What I thought would just be a great job turned into part of my college experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The education and training examples above made me a better RA, but more importantly, a better person. I don’t know if there’s a huge difference between learning and development or a difference between training and learning, but what I do know is that what I learned as an RA still shows up in my job today.

Training done well molds us and shapes us in lasting ways. 

As you think about the difference between training and development and education, consider this—there’s probably a time and place for each of these flavors of personal and professional development, but none of them happen without taking a step out of our comfort zones. The willingness to be unqualified, to ask questions along the way, to seek out and mentorship are all ways to learn, train, and grow. If you want to to create scenarios where you and your team are consistently pushed to step out of your comfort zone at work—Lessonly might be for you!


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At Lessonly, we believe in continuous improvement. That’s why we work to build game-changing training software, every single day. We don’t just sell it—we use it ourselves, too. Our tool is powerfully simple, and we help teams raise the floor of their training, so when things get hard, they fall back on excellence. Interested? You can learn more or get a demo today.

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