education and training

There’s an idea that’s been kicking around in my brain for a little while now, and so I thought I should start exploring it. As with many things, I’m sure that exploration will come in stages. So, consider this the first step in a thousand mile journey.

The genesis moment for this was the question, what is the purpose of education. We live in a complicated and fast changing world, and knowledge and the application of knowledge are what are going to get us through. This is a common trope in science fiction, the scientist as savior. It should be noted that this is also the starting point for many a classic disaster movie, but that’s a topic for another day.

But there’s a recurring discussion regarding the difference between education and training. Underlying this discussion is a common view that one of the core functions of our educational system, particularly pre-university but also impacting on undergraduate level at university, is to prepare students for the world of work, developing transferable and key skills.

And so I thought it might be interesting to try to slide a thin sheet of paper between training on the one hand and education on the other. When I think of training, I think – perhaps a bit unfairly – of preparation for a known task. This might run from something straightforward like touch typing through to leadership training.

But the basic structure is that there is a body of knowledge or information, and the task is to transfer that knowledge from the trainer to the student. We could at a small stretch include such things as some first year university modules, like calculus, because much of an introductory calculus class is to make sure that students have a basic understanding of how to address relatively standard questions.

Education on the other hand we can take to be preparation to answer questions for which we don’t yet have the answers, and this is where the key distinction lies. In training, there is no surprise at the end point; with education, there should be some surprises at the end.

Following on from the comment above, an undergraduate degree can then be viewed as a transition from training to education; from modules that cover standard material, necessary vocabulary and the foundation on which the education will be built, through for instance project work and dissertations that allow students to take a question and properly explore it, not necessarily knowing where that exploration will lead.

Perhaps this is an artificial distinction, and it needs to be set against the wide body of research in education, but it’s an idea I’ve found useful in my own thinking. There is much reading for me to do, I’m sure, and much more thinking. The second step and the third, and the rest of the journey.

~ by Jim Anderson on 5 September 2021.

5 Responses to “education and training”

  1. I don’t necessarily disagree with what you said, but I can offer my narrow perspective of somebody who worked with graduate students in academia and now occasionally supervises placement students in the industry. I see academic training/education as, fundamentally, a bottom-up approach. You start with some simple concepts and progress to a more complex scenarious. This method of education/training works great and it should not change. In industry settings, the training/education process is somewhat inverted. You start with an end goal and then ask (or show how) to break it down into smaller chunks until they are simple enough to execute. I tend to associate the bottom-up approach with education, and hacking problems into smaller pieces with training. If somebody is being obtuse even with the smallest of chunks it points to a gap in their prior education. A recent example is a lack of grasp of trigonometry – not something that can be easily mended in situ.

    • Thanks for this, and your observations ties very closely to a thought I had after hitting the Publish button; namely, one way of trying to articulate the distinction is that training is closed in a sense, and the sense I had in mind is very close to your comment about training starting with the end goal in sight, and already known. Education on the other hand is more open; there may be structure (as you mention above), but there is no clear end goal, only way stations. I always like to ask my students a few questions where I don’t know the answer; I think they’re initially surprised that we don’t know everything – perhaps because we often teach with an implicitness that we know the answers – and then we get to work through the process of breaking a problem apart to examine its inner workings, and then take what we know and see what works.

  2. So I guess we’re talking about education provided by, or supported by, a nation state. Or possibly by a faith community. Education, training, and… indoctrination? I am reminded of the two-tier education system in ANATHEM’s non-mathic societies: respectable, well-off, “professional” people send their kids to be educated in “suvins”, but the children of the underclass attend “cultural stabilisation centres” — “stabils”, which don’t seem to teach skills we would consider basic — like literacy — but which definitely do include “sports programs”. Stabils *look* like schools… but what are they actually doing?

    • I think that the line between education and training on the one hand, and indoctrination on the other, can be a very short line indeed.

      • supp(indoctrination) = {cultural context}, but it almost always used a pejorative term, but it does not have to be, it helps to be “on the same page” with people when working on common projects

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