Educate vs Train

Creativity vs Innovation

Years ago, when I was just starting out, I was sitting in a training room with a few other people working towards being Air Traffic Controllers.  A few of us were talking about the hardest class we had in college.  Depending on the person, it could have been Differential Equations, Fluid Dynamics, Economics or even English Composition.  A little way into it, a fellow ATC trainee came over and joined in.

“You guys are a bunch of wimps,” he said.  “I took a few college courses and thought they were easy.  In the army, now, we had these week long training courses were we had to make our way through 500 page books.  It was very intense.”

“I’m sure it was intense,” I said at the time.  “However, it’s different.”

“How so?” he asked.

To tell the truth, I really could put my finger on it.  But it did feel wrong equating how to do specific task with senior level quantum mechanics.

Since then i have taken dozens of training courses with those 500 page books.  Some have been easy and were aimed at a general audience.  Others have been super difficult, aimed at people with specific skills and knowledge.  I think today I can give a better answer to his question.

When you “train”, you learn to do a specific thing.  It might be work with a specific piece of software, a machine, a system or a process or procedure.  When you are “educated”, you learn why the software is written as it is, how the machine is put together and the theory behind the type of procedure in general.  You are trained to learn to do, but are educated so you can figure out the task on your own, and to create new tasks, processes, software or machines.

That is very simplified, of course.  You can train somebody to create software, though I bet, given the same initial skill level, a person who is educated in how computers work, why certain procedures are sued instead of others and details of studies on computer-human interaction will make better software than a person who is trained how to write a program with in a specific language.  All of that background is very helpful for creation.

It is also possible for a very well educated person to have zero practical knowledge.  A lot of businesses count on that, so they take these people with a background education and teach them the specifics of their industry.

A smart person who has been trained extensively on component A as made by a couple of competing manufactures may be able to design and build an even better component A while a  person who has been educated extensively on how component A works, how it fits into the system, the math and physics behind it, etc., may have no clue how it actually works in real life and would make a completely terrible component A if forced to design one from scratch.  Of course, I would say that the first person has been educated through the training and experience.

What I am saying is that there is really no value judgement between the two and they are both necessary.  I think were the distinction needs to be made is when you would use each one.  In a modern school, a good teacher will move between the two without thinking about it.  A student will be taught to do something (training) and then taught why it is done that way (education).  Training makes it so you can “do” while education makes it so you can take the experience and apply it elsewhere.

A few years ago I took on another pair of concepts, Creativity versus Innovation.  (the graphic at the top was created for that post.)  In ways, I think the pairings here are very similar.  Innovation and Training are both relatively concrete, even when dealing with the abstract, while Creativity and Education are more esoteric, even when dealing with the down to earth.

What do you think?

(Written for the Daily Post – Educate.  I got the idea while responding to post by a fellow blogger.)

Another example is playing an instrument, particularly in a classical setting.  In ways it is difficult to pull the concepts apart here, but in other ways it is easy.

A student is taught how to play the instrument.  This is mostly about motor functions.  The are trained and go through drills to make sure that the mechanics are down.  A person who is well trained can play very well.

A professional classical musician is also educated.  They are taught music theory and composition so they can understand what the composer wrote and why it was written that way. There are taught orchestration, ear training, sight singing, etc., etc.  They are also taught history and biography, so they know the political context of a piece of music. These all come together so they can interpret the score and so play it beyond just the mechanics.

In this case, both work together to make a remarkable whole.



8 thoughts on “Educate vs Train

  1. Joanne Sisco

    Great post, Trent. You’re right, I’ve never given it much thought before now, yet I encountered all the variations along that scale of training vs education in my job.

    The bigger leap for me was wrapping my head around innovation vs creativity. Having thought about it, I see your point. Innovation really is applied creativity. Good one!


    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. It is an interesting topic. I’ve thought about it before, but when i wrote the comment on your post, I thought about it a bit more. And since your post triggered it, I had to link up :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marilyn Armstrong

    I trained my husband (who is not a technical savant) to run the computer at Channel 7 during one 4th of July weekend maybe 15 years ago. He needed to know how to use it or he would probably lose his job. The company’s training courses had not taught him anything. He was desperate.

    I made a deal. He was going to do exactly what I told him as many times as I made him do it until it was automatic. He wasn’t going to argue with me over my tone of voice, whether I wasn’t smiling at him, or whether or not he thought he didn’t need to repeat it. Desperation won and he did it.

    I’d never seen the software he used, but my job in the real world was to take some piece of complicated software, figure out how it worked, then write books to teach people to use it. At that point in my life (not now — I’ve forgotten everything since I retired!), I could dope out pretty much any software in about 10 minutes … and teach someone to use it immediately afterward. I didn’t even need to know exactly what or why it did what it did. All I needed to know was what the person using it needed to accomplish.

    THAT is training. I wasn’t educating him about how or why it worked. There were no sidebars for theory. He needed to know where to write the scripts, how to send them to editing, how to fix them as specified, and how to forward them to the desk for insertion in the news cycle.

    It was a badly designed piece of software, too. No wonder he couldn’t figure it out. it was five (more, but he didn’t need to use every piece of it) separate modules that had nothing in common with each other. No common interface or techniques. All they shared was a main menu and a mainframe. I’m sure the station had paid a fortune for it too. Clearly the people who paid for it didn’t know much about software.

    Garry learned it. By the end of the weekend, he could teach other people to use it. He also realized he COULD learn this stuff — if he stopped thinking about it and just did it.

    That’s the difference. Training gets you to do something without making mistakes. Education teaches you what it’s about, why it’s about, how it got that way, why you should care. It may not teach you to actually USE it.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      That’s a great example of the difference. And you are right – training isn’t just how to do it, but how to do it without making mistakes, or how to do it if everything is going wrong. Not every case, but enough so you don’t freeze when the real world intrudes.

      There was a time I was doing support and in some ways it was the same. Somebody would have an issue with software I had never heard of, I’d sit down and play with it for ten minutes, and then show them what they were doing wrong. Luckily nothing as big as what you are talking about.



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