Saturday, April 5, 2008

Training vs. Education

I've had some thoughts from recent experience about how important the distinction is between training and education in community colleges (and in any educational institution).

Everyone seems to have his or her own definition of "training" and "education". Here are mine.

In general, when you train someone, you tell them a specific way to do (or not do) something. In some cases it can be strictly rote learning, as in how to assemble or disassemble a weapon (there's only one way to do it, by the numbers). In any case, you're not trying to help people make judgments about uncertain situations, you're telling them, "if A, then B; if not A, then C." Many corporate training sessions are of this sort.

In education, you explain to people why something works the way it does or is the way it is, so that they can understand its nature, what's going on. If they lose their way, they can figure out what they need to do to get back to their objective. They can deal with uncertain situations, where there's no clear answer.

In general, the training recipient requires good memory and good organization more than good thinking processes; the education recipient requires application of intelligence, and sometimes critical thinking.

To me, this is the difference between having a set of written directions to get somewhere, and having a map. If you go wrong with the written directions, you may be able to backtrack, but if you get off the path you may be completely lost. If you have a map, you can figure out where you are and get back to where you need to be even if you've strayed far from the proper path. The first is analogous to training, the second to education.

In K12, we now have many schools that are training institutions. The teachers know what is required in the "end of class" test (EOC) , and they know that their job security depends largely on how their students do on those tests. So they drill into their students what they need to know to pass those (usually, multiple choice) tests, and that's all. The students, too, know this is the score; they know they can do next to nothing during the semester, as long as they pass the EOC. Even the smart ones tend to do little, then cram from the book (which, of course, is supposed to contain everything they need to know to pass the EOC), then forget it after the test. (Yes, there are many exceptions: this is the trend, not in every school or every class.)

I've seen the results of this time and again in college. Students expect to be told exactly what's on a test, and what they need to regurgitate, and are dismayed when I require them to actually think. They don't have any idea how to think, because they haven't been required to. In classes I try to impose the "educated" attitude from the beginning, but it's hard for kids to adjust.

Unfortunately in colleges of all types we have teachers who think their job is to "convey the material". I had one teacher say to me, when I was discussing a difficult class, "but you covered the material, didn't you"? That's a dumb question, I'm afraid. That's not what education is about, but it is what training is about. A corollary of the "training mentality" is that if you present the material and the students have the chance to absorb it, and some don't, then oh, well, that's the way it goes. In education, you're trying to find ways to convey what you mean to each class (and each class is different). You've not only conveying information, you're conveying an attitude, a way of doing things. If you can't cover "all the material" because a particular class is having problems, oh, well, your job is to choose (to judge) what's best for the class, and do it, not necessarily "cover all the material".

This is something like sports team coaching, but we don't have as many hours with the students, and we have a lot more students than, say, Coach K at Duke has basketball players (and he has three assistants). Many "trainer" types don't even know the names of their students, let alone understand them as individuals, and don't think that's a problem! How can you judge what the students need, when you know so little about them that you don't know their names?

The problem is, many "teachers" aren't interested in this more complex kind of thinking and understanding of what is needed. It requires more effort, more thought. And unfortunately, school accreditation people also aren't interested, because they can't measure it.

See my post about "educated" people ( I'm not talking about degrees here, I'm talking about a way of thinking and approaching life.

Unfortunately, the US "education" system is becoming more and more training oriented, and less education oriented, every year. Perhaps one indication of this is the very strong tendency of accreditation organizations to emphasize (in teacher qualification) degrees and classes taken rather than actual ability to do something. We are more and more finding "teachers" who have never done what they're teaching in the real world, and it shows. But if all you're doing is conveying material, telling students what to regurgitate on multiple choice tests, how much will the experience of a person who's actually done the work professionally matter? It's a system geared to turn out people who cannot do complex work in the real world--people who have been trained, not educated.

1 comment:

Ian Schreiber said...

I've noticed this as well, with my Community College classes moreso than University ones (as you say, a trend, not an absolute).

So far, my "previously trained" students have at least recognized that I'm still asking questions about the course content, so they perceive the exams as tough but fair. Last quarter, one such class had two midterms and a final (in ten weeks), and most students started feeling comfortable with unfamiliar concepts like essay questions and, um, actually thinking for themselves.

If you have a class like this, then, I'd recommend you try increasing the number of assessments to get the students used to them. Give them the extra practice that they missed in K-12.

"Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest."Mark Twain
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Albert Einstein

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Albert Einstein

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." -- Aristotle