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The Difference Between Education and Training

2016 June 19
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

Homeland security as a vocational paradigm is unique.  Rather than being simply a field of study or discipline itself, it encompasses several major disciplines as part of its scope.  This is why “homeland security” is hard to describe, and is often referred to as an “enterprise”.  The complexity of homeland security extends to its fields and disciplines as well, many of which require a combination of a foundational education and job-specific training.  Consequently, I am often asked about the difference between education and training, and I believe there is a difference, one worth understanding.

Education and training are sometimes used interchangeably, and when they are, some will seek to correct matters by citing proverbial guidance.  For instance, one can be trained to fly an airplane without the knowledge of the physics of flight.  Flight training provides the former, and aeronautical education the latter.  And of course there is the example of sex education versus training.  But these examples fail to consider that education can happen during training sessions, and training can occur as part of an education.  So what is the difference?  And why should it matter?

The key to understanding the difference lies in an understanding of learning objectives, and cognitive domains.  While this sounds difficult, it really isn’t.

The learning objectives of training are typically framed in a way that informs students about a specific topic.  This may involve an individual piece of equipment, a unique method, or a complex process.  Often the scope of training is limited, and a demonstration of competency is sufficient to judge the efficacy of the training process.  The goal of training is knowledge transfer, from trainer to trainee, and demonstrated comprehension on the part of the trainee.  The result is what I will call “applicable knowledge”.  The student is able to apply the results of the training in a specific way to make them more effective at whatever they might be doing – putting out fires or saving someone from choking.  Applicable knowledge is represented by the first three levels of Bloom’s Learning Taxonomy – Knowledge, Comprehension and Application.

The purpose of education is somewhat different.  The learning objectives are (or should be) aimed at providing what I will call “foundational knowledge”.  Unlike applicable knowledge, foundational knowledge is transformational.  It supports the student by providing theoretical bases for the way things are, transforming their understanding of the world, at least a part of it.  Foundational knowledge is represented by the last three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.  Armed with foundational knowledge, a student should be able to create his or her own unique method or complex process based on their theoretical knowledge of the way things are.

It is important to note that foundational knowledge can be a result of training.  For instance, a course on a specific risk analysis methodology could include a module on the history of risk evaluation and assessment that explains why risk assessment is important and how it changed the world.  The training module on the history of risk adds foundational knowledge to the student’s repertoire, while the hands on training in the method arms the student with a tool for risk assessment application.  Both are important and essential to the success of the student.  The educational component adds richness to the training.

In the same way, an educational course of study can equip students with practical tools.  A college-level course on risk assessment could include a module on a specific risk assessment methodology.  In this way, the student leaves the course with not just the “why”, but the “how” as well.  The training in the specific method, in this way, adds richness to the educational course of study.

The effective and deliberate combination of training and education in a course of study can be an indicator of sound instructional design.  As such, an understanding of the distinction is important.





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