Are You Designing Education or Training?

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There is a difference between education and training. If you’ve  been working in the field for any length of time you probably know that. Those new to learning design may have a sense of the differences but may not have made a clear distinction between the two. As Jay Cross famously quipped:

If your sixteen year-old daughter told you that she was going to take a sex education course at high school, you might be pleased. What if she announced she was going to take part in some sex training at school?


Education is more about the theory;

the what and the why. 

Training is about the how.

Education prepares

you for the future.  

Training helps you do

something in the present.

Education in about understanding

concepts and theories.

Training is about putting

concepts and theories into use.

Isn’t that clearer now? There is a difference and understanding the differences and similarities is critical throughout the curriculum and content design process. 

A continuum

Another way to think about this is to imagine a continuum with traditional education at one end and compliance training at the other. Click on the purple dots to see a few examples.

Virtually all K-12 curriculum – with the exception of some trades and elective classes – is designed as education. Likewise most college and university programs are purely education. Although with a move toward project and problem-based learning in K-12, that is shifting a bit. Compliance training is almost always at the training end. A philosophy class is at one end of the continuum and First Aid is at the other.

A crowded middle

Some curriculum is really easy to place at either end of the continuum. Some, not so much and many professions lay in the middle. For example, physicians take years of education then additional years of training.

This means that one of the first questions you should ask when you begin to design any kind of activity that aims to produce learning is:

Are we educating or training?

If you’re doing a bit of both, where are you on the continuum?

  • At which points will you focus on the educational outcomes?
  • When will you switch the focus to training?
  • Or, will you use a spiral design and provide both education and training simultaneously?

Answering these kinds of question will help you plan the learning and create outcomes, objectives, and assessments that match your intention. That, in turn, will make it more likely that you learners will learn what you want them to.

What about professional development?

Professional development is learner centric. It can be education or training or anything in between. It’s any learning activity that someone takes part in to develop their skills or to acquire new knowledge that will help them grow professionally.

What are you designing? Is it education? Or is it training?