Sunday, April 26, 2015

Education vs. training: Do we have a new norm?

I remember having an earnest conversation about the difference between "education" and "training" years and years ago. It is not surprising that conversation continues as we wrestle with what it means to be a learner in the 21st century.

Discussions about learning have far exceeded the boundaries of the K-12 classroom. We have to think differently about the college classroom but also any learning opportunities afforded through one's work place.

In 2000, Dr. Robert Esseheigh of The Ohio State University wrote "It's the difference between know how and know why. It's the difference between, say, being trained as a pilot to fly a plane and being educated as an aeronautical engineer and knowing why the plane flies, and then being able to improve its design so that it will fly better." He went on to say "Indeed, both Know How and
Know Why are essential at one moment or another, and they interact all the time; but at the same time, the center of gravity of education is and must be in the Know Why. For emphasis in Know How, go to a training college." And he was doing so well, but to be so dismissive of "know how" is short-sighted, among other things.

Dr. Essenheigh did also state that "[t]he difference, also, is fundamentally that Know How is learning to Think Other People's Thoughts, which indeed is also the first stage in education -- in contrast to learning to Think Your Own Thoughts, which is why Know Why is the final state of education." Overlooking the A.A. Milne-like approach to capitalizing, it's easy enough to hear the elitist sniff as one considers the difference between Thinking One's Own Thoughts as opposed to, wait, how can I think other people's thoughts? That's just nonsense. Perhaps I read and learn about other people's thoughts, but I cannot think them. No matter how inclined to mere training I might be, I'm still going to think my own thoughts and contemplate them in light of those of others.

In 2014, Chris Barnes attempted to explain the difference between "education" and "training." In what I think is a rather oversimplified view of either, Mr. Barnes introduced two lists to help differentiate, though you'll note he quickly equated "learning" with "education" which might lead one to think there is no learning in training.


  • Are you looking for a course in a foundation subject?
  • Do you want to gain qualifications you missed out on at school?
  • Would you tend to find the type of course you’re looking for traditionally in an educational institution?

  • Are you looking to learn a specific skill for work?
  • Do you want to apply the knowledge you gain practically?
  • Would you tend to find the type of course you’re looking for traditionally in a commercial setting?
The landscape of learning and training has advanced greatly since the 80s, as more universal access to education and training has become available, particularly through elearning.

In 2004, Professor Peter Rickman wrote
Training is about practice, about skill, about learning how to do things. Education is about fostering the mind, by encouraging it to think independently and introducing it to knowledge of the physical and cultural world. It’s about theory, understanding and a sense of values. There is, of course, some overlap. Practice may require some theory and education may require some skills, such as reading and writing.
 Professor Rickman was arguing for the need of philosophy and other liberal arts, which is a part of education. He asserts
Educational establishments are rightly and necessarily engaged in training, but it is not enough to pour information into receptive minds to meet the ideals of education. Of course we need skills and information but we also need – and this is of paramount importance – human beings who have learned to think, make judgments, appreciate the beautiful and the good. We need not only experts in choosing means, but people educated to decide on their goals.
Ahh, there we go. We seem to assume that everyone comes to learning how to think without any training, but educators know that far too many of their student do not Know HOW to think, critically or otherwise. So it stands to reason, based on the thoughts of others, specifically Dr. Essenheigh, Mr. Barnes, and Professor Rickman, that education (or learning) and training are irrevocably linked.

Any time a person learns a trade or a skill--how to use clay to model a car, how to weld, how to fly a plane--that person is learning from the accumulated knowledge and experience of others. Perhaps even countless others. And if I'm going to do a good job flying a plane or using clay to model a car or completing the perfect weld, I just might need to know WHY I'm doing what I'm doing a certain way. And if I'm one of those who might have the wherewithal to think a bit more critically or creatively, I might be one of those who can add to accumulated knowledge and experiences of others when I innovate, even if in some small way. "Maybe this will work better. . . ." "Has anyone ever thought about or tried. . . .?"

We keep trying to make any kind of learning experience more efficient by removing whatever bloat someone at that moment thinks isn't necessary. Does that mean everyone should take a philosophy course? That everyone should be required to read classical literature? No. But I think everyone should be given the opportunity to expand their horizons. Because I agree with Dr. Essenheigh and Professor Rickman that learning to think one's own thoughts and examine them critically in light of the thoughts and practices of others is profoundly important to personal and professional growth. I hate to try to contemplate the number of inventions and inventive ways of thinking and doing we've lost because of a narrow-minded view of training, because of a failure to see the potential of a complementary relationship between education and training.

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