Education Vs. Training

Learning how to learn is a skill that often falls through the cracks, but it is the most valuable skill you can have.


While writing my recent articles on the subject of training, a number of people pointed out that training and education are not the same thing. In a very simple sense, training is defined to be learning a skill or behavior that enables you to ‘do’ something, whereas education is the acquisition of knowledge from study or training.

These definitions leave me cold and, in my mind, miss a very fundamental concept that is not covered by either term. It reminds me of something said by one of my professors on the first day of entering university some 40+ years ago. “We will teach you two types of things – the details that you need to get your first job, but more importantly, we will teach you how to learn and that will enable you to get every job after that.”

The ability to learn is the single most important skill that a university should teach and is something I found lacking in many job candidates while I was a hiring manager. The definition of education should not just be about the acquisition of knowledge, but the process by which knowledge can be acquired.

During interviews I would always give each candidate a problem, which I knew they would not know the answer to. I was interested in the questions they asked and the method they used to get to an answer – even if it was sometimes incorrect. Then I would ask them how they would verify the solution they had come up with. This stumped even more of them because it required critical thinking about their process.

Over the years, I found that people who had studied in different parts of the world had more or less difficulty with this type of question. I am not going to state who did best or worse, but I know that my observations have been expressed by several of my peers. Not having studied in all of those locations means I am almost clueless about why those differences exist and can only surmise some of the issues.

The one piece of experience I can draw on was my formative years in middle/high school in England. I chose to change schools and did my final two years in a school that was considered to be academically inferior to the first school. That was because the first school tended to produce politicians and lawyers, whereas the second school tended to produce engineers and technicians. I later realized that money probably had a lot to do with the final outcomes.

What is it about the way that education is delivered that determines a person’s ability to think and learn on their own? Many times, it has been questioned if students graduate with the knowledge they require to get their first job, but few seem to question if they have the problem solving skills necessary. In an environment such as semiconductors, there almost always have been more jobs than candidates, meaning that such educational failures are not always apparent.

What I did find, when I changed schools, is that I had not picked up some basic learning skills. The first school relied on examinations that could be passed just by having a good memory. The second school expected you to do homework that involved self-learning – the application of what had been learned. Those two school years were the most difficult of my education.

Problem solving is a process. Another thing I learned on my first day at university was, “A system is a methodology for handling complexity.” The usage of the word “system” is problematic for many people, and is perhaps better stated as, “Problem solving is the methodology of handling complexity.” In both cases, the definition does not define the end goal, which is to achieve some objective, and that objective often can be limited by constraints.

I am often skeptical about any educational system where it is easy to get 100%, or close to it. That would seem to indicate that 100% means you know everything you were taught. But that should be the basic pass requirement. Above that should be the ability to demonstrate that you know how to apply what you have been taught, and even further above that, that you can extend what you learned to a level beyond what you were taught. That means you have learned how to learn and that should be the only way to approach 100%.

I would love to hear what you think about the education systems around the world. What have you experienced that worked? What do you see as problematic?


Theodore wilson says:

Thanks Brian, always appreciate these articles. I am interested in the realities some professors might note in their jobs. I remember some very challenging professors in math and physics but heard they had a lot to push back on the low test scores. Are teachers set up to fail in the terms you have set out?

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