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Education vs. Training: What's the Difference and Why it Matters

Most of us are schooled to think that education is the same thing as training. And, of course, in some ways it is. However, we can think of education as an opportunity to learn all there is to know about a specific topic at a certain level. Whereas training is the application of knowledge and skill to specific tasks in specific situations, to the job.

For example, let’s say that we want to learn how to organize a wardrobe. If we are being educated then we might expect to learn about different methods of organizations such as KonMari or the Home Edit methods, and different elements of a wardrobe such as formal wear, suits, shirts, pants, and so on.

If, on the other hand we are being trained to organize our specific wardrobe, we would learn one method of organizing and learn about the best way to organize the items we have. So, if we don’t have any suits, we wouldn’t need to learn the best ways to store them, for example.

Why does the difference between training and education matter?

Differentiating between training and education matters. Corporate training or open courses are often designed around topics, and the topic is used to guide the content. Perhaps there are references to examples of how to use it, but for the most part, this type of training is delivered in a way that is informed more by education than training. Using a training-oriented approach, we would first determine the task (rather than the topics) and then use the task as the guide to the content. It’s important to take a training-oriented approach rather than an education-oriented approach when training employees because of two things: cognitive load, and relevance.

Cognitive load refers to how much information an individual can hold in their awareness at any given time - somewhere between 5 and 9 bits of information. So, imagine for a minute that I am learning to organize my wardrobe and one of the course topics is, “How to Properly Store Clothing.” The information in this course might include storing ball gowns, tuxedos, sweaters, pants, sox, coats, shoes, dresses, tuxedos, etc. Can you see how quickly a learner might end up in overload? When cognitive overload occurs the learner can’t retain some or all of what they learn. So, in this example, can you imagine what might happen if an individual retains information about ball gowns, dresses, and tuxedos, but doesn’t own any of those? For training, I think you can see that it’s important to trim down what we expect learners to retain to just those items they need to put into practice.

The good news about cognitive load is that the brain is a fantastic organizer. Given the right context, the learners’ brains will organize bits of information into chunks of like information. So, if we provide a coat closet for example, the brain can organize the storage requirements for jackets, overcoats, raincoats, etc. into a chunk of similar information and the learner can then retain 5 – 9 chunks of information.

And this is where relevance comes in. Because the more relevant we make information or skills, to how they get used on the job, the more the brain can find “coat closets” within which to organize the content.

To put this into practice, as you develop training courses, ask yourself this question, “How will the learner use this information or skill on the job?” If you can’t answer that question, then you might want to think about asking this one, “What would happen if they didn’t know, or know how to do, this?”

These two questions should help you reduce cognitive load and create relevance in your training thus resulting in a training-oriented approach rather than an education-oriented approach.


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