These days my colleagues know better than to ask me if I want to go on ‘training’. My answer is usually: “No thanks, training’s for dogs”. This often raises eyebrows, and I have to quickly explain that I’m not anti-education. In this blog I’m going to explain my rationale.
Importantly, I’m not against training because I arrogantly think I have nothing more to learn. On the contrary, I’m a perennial student and I’m always looking to expand my knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of the things that interest me. I’m sceptical of training courses because:
- I believe that education – rather than training – is the key to self-improvement
- My experience of “training” is that it does not provide much in the way of education (often because of the limitations of the delivery format and a focus on highly theoretical examples)
These days most people seem to regard education and training as synonymous. However, they are not interchangeable terms. For example, you wouldn’t try to educate a dog (I hope), and top athletes are trained by their coaches, but are not usually educated by them (although this is changing as elite athletes are becoming more aware of the need to understand the latest research in health and nutrition).
Training has its place
The difference between education and training is the level of understanding that is achieved by the student. As the proverb says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
For me, providing someone with training is much like giving them a fish. It may be the tastiest, best cooked, best presented fish, but its use is very limited compared to being taught how to obtain and cook their own fish.
Training does have a place. It makes a lot of sense if you have a need to learn a fixed unchanging skill – such as how to jump a long way (if you’re an athlete) or how to use a particular software product (if you need to use it for your work). If I have the need to learn such a skill then a training course makes sense.
The power of education
The power of education is that once a truth is understood it can be applied in completely different situations independent of the original context. Education enables the “Why?” questions to be answered.
The danger of training, particularly if it is well delivered, is that the unwitting student* comes away with a lot of very good information, but without any real understanding of how and when to apply it – and crucially no idea of practical limitations. I regularly encounter people who are struggling to apply their knowledge because they treat it as a set of fixed rules to be applied to get a given result, rather than understanding the underlying principles and adapting them as necessary to the particular circumstances.
Education is for people
Education takes over from training when we go beyond theoretical examples and fixed rules, and start considering what happens in messy real world situations. Much like learning to drive, the learning happens after you’ve mastered the basic controls and passed the test. Unfortunately, that usually means long after the training course has finished and the instructor is no longer available to help.
Perhaps modern technology will soon enable us to learn in a more distributed fashion at a pace that better suits people’s ability to absorb and understand. But only if we recognise that there is a fundamental difference between training and education, and deliberately set out to be educated. Leave the training to dogs.
*Footnote: I’ve been that unwitting student.