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Gavin Greig [userpic]

Teaching or Training?

October 2nd, 2008 (12:19 pm)
current location: DD4 9FF

sharikkamur has raised an interesting question about the differences between teaching and training.

I think I agree with those who've said in the comments that what she is demonstrating is actually a more structured (personally I would go with better) teaching/training style, rather than necessarily doing one or the other.

To arrive at that conclusion, I had to think a bit about what I considered to be the difference between teaching and training (my definitions may not agree with any more widely-held definitions, of course). Taking on board what's already been said in sharikkamur's post and the comments, it seems to me that the real teaching/training division is similar to the division I've noted in styles of computing text books.

In particular, I've noticed those differences between the output of two respected publishers, O'Reilly and Addison-Wesley. If you're learning how to use a new technology, you can often do worse than to pick up the relevant O'Reilly book on the subject. That will help you to get up to speed and do a good job with technology "X", and you might learn a bit about how to be a better developer in the process.

In contrast, Addison-Wesley titles have a different emphasis. They tend to teach methodologies, which may be illustrated with a particular technology.

That difference in emphasis crystallises what, for me, is the difference between teaching and training. Training is short term and task-focused; you will learn to do a particular thing, and (hopefully) learn to do it well. Teaching takes a longer term view. Particularly in computing, training in a particular technology may not be particularly relevant in a few years time. Teaching will try to instil in you principles that will stand you in good stead for years to come.

In a University context, what is needed in any subject - not just technology - is an admixture of teaching and training. Students will feel short-changed - and future employers may not bite - if they don't receive enough training in the technology/theories of the day. However, a really valuable education will use training as the Trojan horse to teach students how to do things better, regardless of the more particular concerns.

One way of describing this might be to say that teaching imparts knowledge, while training imparts skills, as sharikkamur's previous reading suggests, but personally I think that's an unhelpful interpretation. Teaching and training should both impart knowledge and skills; the difference is in where they are focused.

I have both O'Reilly and Addison-Wesley books on my shelves, and at least initially I was much more aware of O'Reilly as a brand. But when I sat down one day to consider which of my books I valued most, I was surprised to discover that almost all came from Addison-Wesley, the publisher I hadn't particularly noticed, and they were the books that had tried to teach me how to be a more effective developer, rather than the books that covered a particular technology.



Posted by: silverwhistle (silverwhistle)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
Smiley Rosa

I would say that "training" is about learning to follow instructions; "teaching" is about learning to think and ask questions.

Posted by: Gavin Greig (ggreig)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2008 08:18 pm (UTC)

I can see where you're coming from, but I think your view of training might be a bit cynical ;-) While I don't deny training could be like that, it doesn't need to be. I see it more as giving a head-start on some of the answers - which does mean it can be a little prescriptive, but it needn't prevent thought.

Perhaps what's being taught can affect that too - some topics will be more rigid than others.

Posted by: silverwhistle (silverwhistle)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
Smiley Rosa

If it's more than simply following instructions, then it becomes teaching. I don't regard "training" as a concept to include thinking for oneself.

Posted by: silverwhistle (silverwhistle)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
Unicorn Lady

For example, you train a dog to obey commands. If you were teaching it, you would expect Rover to have some input, too!

Posted by: Gavin Greig (ggreig)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)

You also train a developer to use a new technology, but you don't want them to stop thinking about how best to use it.

Posted by: myceliumme (myceliumme)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)

It's hard to say whether X is A or B when we don't necessarily agree on the definitions of A and B to start with. So indeed it's a good thing to ponder those definitions and whether A and B are definitely separate entities.

Current 5-14 guidelines seem to about enabling lifelong learning as well as abilities/knowledge. Some of it's a bit scary and jargonistic for me but you might want to look here.

Posted by: Nik Whitehead (sharikkamur)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2008 08:21 am (UTC)

Oh yes, I recognise that jargon. :) The textbook through which I'm making my merry way is full of it.

There's still a big difference between secondary and tertiary education. In schools there is more responsibility on the teacher to make sure that the kids learn. At university there is none of this - if the student doesn't want to bother turning up to classes then who cares?

Enabling lifelong learning is a great idea, in my view - not just for making sure that they are educatable when they get into work, but also that they are educatable at university too. Getting the right mindset, that sort of thing.

Posted by: Nik Whitehead (sharikkamur)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2008 08:50 am (UTC)

You are absolutely correct in saying that university teaching must combine the two approaches to education. The differences in universities arise in part from where the institutional focus is set. In the current climate, where there is a massive push to get many more people to university - far more than are perhaps suited to learning in a 'classical' university environment - I believe that it has become an economic necessity for many universities to move their focus towards more task-focussed teaching (where the 'task' is defined by businesses as produce graduates who we can employ without having to send them on a dozen industry-specific training courses but who can still think for themselves when necessary.

The challenge then become to use teaching/training techniques that will encourage the weaker students to develop the reflection and synthesis capabilities of the more 'academic' students. The recommended solution seems to be to use a more active training approach than the traditional 'chalk and talk' style of lecturing.

Your point on books hadn't occurred to me, but thinking about I find myself agreeing with you. I have a similar bookshelf full of books; the O'Reilly books I started acquiring during my time in industry and the predominantly-Addison-Wesley (in their many sub-publisher forms) textbooks. In most of my current teaching I'll have an A-W textbook as the main text but may well have an O'R as a practical secondary text on the technology involved.

Edited at 2008-10-03 08:53 am (UTC)

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