Friday, June 6, 2008

Where Do The Boundaries Lie?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
a badminton racquet

Where do the boundaries lie in training and
education? For many teachers, drawing the distinction between these disciplines is seemingly very difficult. It poses the same illogicality as does the chicken and egg paradox.

I left a comment on Michele Martin’s recent post where she spoke of the corporate trainer as distinct from the teacher. In doing so I attempted to define the distinction between education, being preparation for life in its many facets, and training, being preparation for routine: a prearranged detailed course of action performed recurrently, as in a standard procedure.

Training is explicit

Back in last century, while training as a teacher I was also completing my education at university. I had signed up to do post-graduate research immediately following the completion of my honours degree and was still writing my PhD thesis when I did teacher training. The distinction between the two institutions, university and teacher training college, was explicit for me.

Routines and practices

University was not unlike senior secondary school in terms of the learning that had to be done. Even in my post-grad years I was acutely aware of the brainwork involved while I grappled with ideas, concepts that were new to me. But teacher training? That was refreshingly different. We learnt routines and practices. We spoke of pedagogies, read about the works of the theorists. It all seemed reasonably straightforward and it was almost effortless for me to see where a lot of what I was trained in could be applied.

What is more, I had no problem with accepting that what I was experiencing was training. There was something light and less cerebral about it, compared to the heavy theory and traction of degree course and research learning. I’m aware that this may just be my perception, but it defined some distinctions that I could later identify when I became a teacher.

Where is the boundary

So what’s the guts? How does one tell the difference between training and education?

In the 70’s, throughout the globe, we were still teaching logarithms to year 11 students in mathematics classes. That meant using log tables, as opposed to manipulating exponents or ‘powers’. In New Zealand, students had to be able to find the logarithm of a number by reading it from a set of tables. They also had to be able to convert back from a logarithm to get a number by using antilogarithm tables. I recall only too vividly the lessons I gave where fifth formers learnt (or didn’t learn) how to use these sets of tables. This was training.

It was a manipulative skill where data was read and transcribed from one paper resource to another, usually with a pencil. The “how to” could be taught to some students in a few minutes and to others over a variably longer period of time. Nearly all my students could learn how to ‘read’ log tables within a few days.

Tricks of the trade

There were certain techniques that I taught, in spirit not unlike the tricks a coach might impart to a tennis player. Simple ones like using a ruler to read across the lines of numbers so that the eye didn’t accidentally jump up or down to the wrong line.

Examination candidates were supplied with sets of mathematical and statistical tables in a booklet where all the pages looked more or less the same. So it was important for a student to be able to read the labels that lay along the headings on the pages so they could check that they were reading from the correct table. This required a certain base education. If students could not identify which table to use, and this was coached in training practice, they had slim hope of performing what was otherwise a relatively simple task.

Falling off a log

When log tables were replaced with calculators, as happened globally toward the end of last century, I had to train students to use quite different routines. Instead of learning to use tables and rulers and all the techniques that went with those, students had to be shown which buttons to press on their calculators. They had to learn what all the little button-symbols meant. Essentially the same degree of training was required with calculators as with log tables though
the manual skills required to perform the tasks were quite different. There is no fundamental distinction between their correct numerical outcomes.

pH is powerful

I teach chemistry in the senior school. Year 13 students are required to perform calculations in solution pH. This requires not only the ability to find the logarithm of a number, but also the ability to understand what is meant by a logarithm in terms of it being an index or power. Hydrogen ion concentration is expressed in powers of ten (10) and calculating the pH involves finding the logarithm of this concentration. A chemistry student who has never been introduced to the idea of a logarithm or power is at a distinct and severe disadvantage.

First, they have to learn to be able to find the logarithm of a number using a calculator. They then have to understand and come to grips with the concept of an exponent or power. It is often all too obvious that students find it easier to determine the logarithm of a number than to understand what to do with it once it's obtained.

Education not training

Understanding about powers of ten is not something a student can gain through training. If they are not familiar with the concept, they need educating, not training. The ideas associated with thinking about powers and exponents in relation to logarithms or indices to the base ten have to be understood before a student can perform a sensible calculation with any given data to do with pH.

So concepts imparted to novices tend to fall into the category of education. Most secondary teachers assume (or hope) that their fresher students will have been educated to a level where they can read and write. For most students these skills and knowledge will have taken development years to acquire. During that time the students would have assimilated the associative skills to do with understanding symbols leading to literacy and numeracy, all of which would have been acquired by a deal of conceptual learning, otherwise known as education, most of which is simply taken for granted.

Anyone for tennis?

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Britt Watwood said...

Thoughtful post, Ken! Part of the answer could be on the focus. In working with faculty, I have seen that when one shifts from teacher-centered delivery to student-centered learning, the emphasis is on outcomes whether training or educating. "Training" tends to be more in the automatic or surface levels - expected response for a given input. Deep learning adds the cognitive understanding of the "why" to the "what."

Christine Martell said...

Interesting how language is used differently by various segments of the education community. Not totally of course, more like sliding along a spectrum of possibilities.

When I am working with college students in a class context, I think of what I am doing as facilitating learning (even working with teachers/faculty). When I work in the context of an organization outside of education that's when I put my trainer hat on. Then I am thinking about the overall business objectives and how the training will move participants closer to being able to meet them. Like Britt, I think of it as a shift in focus. I don't abandon the understanding of why to what, but I am looking for behavior change in addition to attitude or conceptual understanding.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tena korua

Christine & Britt – Thank you both for throwing light on the ‘focus’. You help me think. I get the bit about cognitive and conceptual understanding – the ‘why’ to the ‘what’. Having been a corporate trainer for 5 years, way back, I’m also aware of the need to meet business objectives in that role. In essence and in a minor way, student training in the use of the calculator in my post example is meeting an objective not unlike a business objective in a metaphorical way. And it is easy to see the distinctions between the business objective and the learning objective. But isn’t this all just a matter of categorisation?

I had a very good boss in the 70’s; Bob was my Science HOD. He claimed that in ‘education’ it didn’t really matter what was taught to children as long as it was ethical, moral and appropriate. I knew what he was thinking about (what Christine said about behavioural change would have been part of that attitudinal approach). Many other teachers at that time would have had issues with the fundamentals of ethics, moral concerns and what was considered appropriate, let alone the idea of making all this part of the curriculum (this highlights Christine’s good point about how language and its possible meaning can be slid along a continuum).

But knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do is a feature of the educated. How this is nurtured and developed through teaching is the essence of what formal education is supposed to be about (and I’m positing that education isn’t necessarily acquired through formal teaching).

My feeling is that education happens. It can also be nurtured. It would be extremely difficult to design instruction that was entirely training (providing no education) or entirely educational (providing no training) and then to provide ready access to it so that it was useful. Any thoughts?

Ka kite

Christine Martell said...

Ken, so true that is there is a permeable line between training and learning. I just see increasing pressure in the training world to focus on performance outcomes. It often feels like a loss of learning about learning, but maybe it's not as clear cut as that?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Thanks Christine.

You say it is a feature of training. It is also becoming a feature of education. If I can misquote you, I just see increasing pressure in education to focus on learning outcomes. Whatever is driving the wedge in training is having the similar effect in education. C'est la vie!

Ka kite