Training or Education?

College Campus

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” William Bruce Cameron

As technology comes to play an increasing role in education and as online courses proliferate, we run the risk of confusing training with education. This distinction becomes even more important as demand grows, from both the public and private sectors, for measuring the value of higher education.

What’s the difference between these two learning activities? Barry Schwartz, psychology professor at Swarthmore College, provides one answer I especially like. As we try to determine whether an activity is training or education, Schwartz suggests we ask ourselves whether the work we are doing addresses any of these four questions:

What is worth knowing?
What is worth doing?
What makes for a good human life?
What are my responsibilities to other people?

If our work asks us to read, write, or think about any of these four questions, we’re engaged in education. Unlike training, the effectiveness of which is easily measured through standardized testing, the most valuable outcomes of education can’t be easily weighed except, perhaps, by the quality of the life one leads. What scale should we use to measure passion, inspiration, intellectual curiosity, and a commitment to the welfare of others? “A whole life well-lived” is how Aristotle described a life infused with these qualities, the kind of life he also described as a life of “virtue” — a declaration that resurrects from the distant past a word that for many of us today has lost both meaning and relevance.

Training is to education as answers are to questions. Training aims to transfer existing knowledge useful in solving known problems, while education aims to stimulate provocative questions designed to discover unknown truths. Training lives in a world of certainty and values stability and consistency of application, whereas education lives in a world of ambiguity and values growth, impermanence, and change. Training seeks to preserve, while education seeks to transform. Both modes of learning are important, but neither should be confused with the other.