What’s the difference between teaching and training?

This question surfaces regularly and sounds straightforward – but never is. The distinction is fraught and increasingly used to prop up an out-dated hierarchy of education provision.

Often the comparison is made in order to defend quality approaches to education – to argue that teaching is more than mere training. That academic education is on a higher plane than vocational education. This is shaky ground. Educationalist Ken Robinson describes ‘the academic/vocational caste system’ as ‘one of the most corrosive problems in education.

In post-compulsory education, where adult learners undertake further study to prepare themselves for work, the distinction between academic and vocational paths is unlikely to stand the test of the 21st Century economy. Machines can replace humans in many jobs. Employers want workers who can work collaboratively, learn as they go and apply what they know to new challenges.

Education should help students develop specialist knowledge and skills, solve problems and demonstrate what they can do. This is as true in the vocational education sector as in the university sector. Quality training and quality teaching are the same thing.

The idea that one group of students requires training rather than teaching is illogical. As is the suggestion that they require a trainer rather than a teacher.

This is not a tussle about terminology – the words represent a very real issue for teachers at TAFE NSW, which has been excised from the Department of Education and given to the Department of Industry and where teacher roles (and pay) are currently being redefined.

The CEO of a large training organisation recently suggested to me that we could get a grasp on the difference between training and teaching by considering sex. Would you like your children to be enrolled in sex education or sex training?

This nails the popular understanding of the distinction. Training is about practical skills and teaching is about a theoretical understanding. But surely we need both. And its not just bananas and condoms – across the board there is an expectation that people will be able to do something practical with what they have learnt. We no longer emphasise what you know, but what you can do. Apply your study of philosophy to bio-ethical problems, your study of electricity to the design of light and power circuits.

I’ve just read an article by Tom Haymes Teaching Creativity – Not Conformity posted on the New Media Consortium blog in April 2016. Haymes makes several statements that sum up a common attitude towards training.

  • Training usually purports to give us answers. Good teaching leaves us with questions.
  • Training is about control. Teaching is about liberating creativity and innovation.
  • We are driven toward more and more activities that train our students, faculty, and staff without teaching them. The real casualty of this is innovation.
  • Most training is about rules, not possibilities. Trainees will still need help to get someone else to work through these problems for them.

The problem is that this distinction made by Haymes is not real. It presents a view of training that no one would care to defend. To really tease out any difference between training and teaching we would need to compare each at their best.

Quality vocational training is not about providing information followed by a quiz. The overuse of such methods is as common in universities as it is in TAFE. The teaching currently taking place in TAFE colleges includes theory and practice, instruction and guided discovery, information and provocation.

As Haymes acknowledges ‘As a society, we seem to have a lot of trouble distinguishing teaching from training’.


Feature image: www.flickr.com/photos/globalintegration/13450539134/