Differentiating between the two can prepare you for more effective professional development and instruction in both settings.
By Saul Carliner | STC Fellow
After spending part of my first Canadian Thanksgiving dinner complaining about all of the American prepared foods I couldn’t find in the country, someone who was fed up with my complaining commented, “We cook our own food here.”
So what does this have to do with education and training, and learning in academia and industry? Well, just as the differences between American and Canadian culture seem invisible to the casual bystander, so the differences between education and training often appear invisible, too.
I became sensitized to these subtle differences from a practical perspective as I moved from presenting professional workshops to teaching for-credit academic programs. Preparing to design a graduate certificate that prepares future instructors for higher and continuing education (the latter somewhat akin to training) illuminated theoretical and philosophical distinctions between the two teaching contexts.
In this article, I characterize the key similarities and differences between education and training, then suggest opportunities and challenges for faculty who want to teach training programs and for practicing professionals who would like to teach in colleges and universities.
Differences and Similarities Between Education and Training
This section explores the differences and similarities between education and training. Specifically, it explores differences in missions, the teaching and learning experience, and governance and similarities in the focus on student outcomes, teaching facilities and media, and characteristics of effective teaching, all of which affect expectations regarding education and training.
Although both education and training involve teaching skills to people, the nature of the skills and the time frame in which instructors should expect learners to apply those skills varies widely between education and training. Education is generally intended for long-term application: more than six months after the course. By contrast, training is generally intended for short-term application: within six months of the course (Carliner 2012).
These differences in missions lead to differences in the types of material taught, even if all of the material has direct or indirect application in the workplace. Education generally tends to involve more abstract and conceptual material, while training tends to focus more on concrete material (Malcolm, Colley and Hodkinson 2003, and Eraut 2004). For example, rhetorical strategies underlying different types of communication represent educational content, while procedures for operating an authoring tool represent training content.
Despite this difference in mission between education and training, academia and industry must often cross lines because of the nature of the content they want to teach. For example, if a technical communication program wants students to prepare assignments in a particular authoring tool, they have to provide training on that tool. Similarly, if an employer develops software to protect cybersecurity, the development team needs an awareness of the key concepts, laws, and regulations governing online security. In some cases, a company might provide this education to their employees in-house. In other cases, they might rely on a continuing education provider (like a university continuing education unit or a professional or trade association) or expert company.
Difference: The Teaching and Learning Experiences
Although the facilities and media are the same, the teaching and learning experiences substantially differ between education and training. Consider these differences.
- Length of courses. Typical college and university courses are tied to credit values, with each credit representing approximately 10 to 15 hours of work (credits have different values in different countries). Most institutions schedule courses for about 3 to 5 hours a week over a term (10 to 15 weeks depending on the country and whether the institution follows a quarter or semester system). This fosters a longer-term relationship between instructors and learners. By contrast, many training programs are shorter in duration, only taking the time needed to master a tightly-defined subject. Employers, who often pay for training, want to minimize the time away from the workplace because this, in turn, reduces productivity. The lengths of training courses varies. Many self-study e-learning courses run for just an hour or two with many employers offering micro-learning, short bursts of learning running from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. In-person classes usually run in half-day segments, with most running between one half-day to two or three full days, though some run longer. Live virtual classes are often scheduled in shorter segments than in-person ones and might run for several sessions over one to four weeks. The shorter-term nature of these courses also affects the extent to which instructors and learners develop relationships. Continuing education courses fall somewhere between university and training courses. Some use university-like scheduling (one or two short sessions per week for several weeks); others schedule full-day sessions for one or more days. Either the number of continuing education units (CEUs) (a different system than college and university credits, with one hour of class time leading to one CEU) or the amount of course material determine the length of courses.
- Expectations of class preparation. The extent of preparation for class sessions varies between education and training. Before college and university classes, learners can expect one to three hours of preparation. As a result, instructors almost always assign readings in advance of class, often assign problem sets and other types of assignments, and sometimes ask learners to watch recorded lectures before class sessions. By contrast, most training programs involve no pre-class preparation. In those cases when a course assumes that learners have a certain minimum level of knowledge, learners might have to complete pre-work, usually a self-study course. Furthermore, because training offered by an employer is considered work, employees can request compensation for time spent in class preparation. Even without that financial concern, because learners have full-time jobs and most have outside responsibilities, most lack time for pre-class preparation so instructors rarely expect it. As with other aspects of the teaching and learning experience, continuing education programs straddle the line between education and training. Some require pre-class preparation but often limit it to one to two hours for the entire class session rather than per hour of instruction.
- Relationship between instructor and learner. The relationships between instructors and learners differ between education and training. The longer-term nature of educational courses fosters a closer relationship than possible in training. But so do differences in roles of instructors in the two environments. In addition to teaching, instructors in colleges and universities often provide tutoring to students who have difficulty, and many learners contact instructors for advice on education and career plans. At the graduate level, instructors supervise the research of learners and often hire them as research and teaching assistants. This creates a close working relationship, often resembling that of a mentor and protégé. By contrast, the short length of many training courses limits the opportunity to develop relationships. But so does the one-off nature of many training courses (courses taken in isolation rather than as part of a program).
- Grading. Grades—a formal letter or number that encapsulates the extent to which learners mastered the objectives—play a central role in college and university teaching. Providing assignments that fairly capture the instructional material and marking learners’ responses consistently and equitably require extensive time, as does providing learners with useful feedback. Instructors in colleges and universities need to leave large amounts of time for marking assignments. Each graded assignment adds to instructors’ workloads. Many training organizations do not assess student learning, and when they do, rely on self-assessments rather than formally marked exams. That’s the impact of Griggs vs Duke Power (Legal Information Institute), a 1971 US Supreme Court ruling, which suggests that, unless an organization validates examinations used to make personnel decisions (such as hiring, promotion, and transfers) to ensure that they assess what they are intended to assess and do not discriminate against workers, an employer might indeed be engaging in discriminatory practices, even if it did not intend to. In response, most employers rarely use tests, and when they do, often involve their legal departments in the process. Continuing education programs sometimes involve assessments of learning, especially when offered by college and university continuing education programs and some professional associations (like STC) but they often involve projects rather than tests.
- Role of student evaluations of teaching. Student evaluations of teaching, which assess satisfaction with instructors and courses, play important but different roles in teaching in both education and training. In education, student evaluations of teaching play a role in assessing performance and might affect a tenure or renewal decision if the instructor has consistently poor evaluations but the evaluations are rarely used in terminations. By contrast, because the reputation of a training group often depends on satisfaction with instructors and courses, these evaluations play a key role in decision making. The most stringent organizations have an established minimum score that instructors (both full-time and contract) must achieve. If they fail to do so, they might be placed on an improvement plan, and if the situation persists, might not receive further teaching assignments.
The governance of academic and training programs substantially differs from one another, meaning the process for initiating and approving decisions as well as who participates in them differ. In academia, all decisions about curricula and courses lie with the faculty. A group of faculty propose curricula and the proposals are approved within the department in which the program resides (and often contains other programs), the College (or, in the British system, Faculty), and University. The proposal must receive majority approval at each level of vote. In the case of accredited programs, the proposed curricula and courses must also be approved by the accrediting body (such as the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs) before the curriculum and program can be accredited.
At the department level, all full faculty members participate in the decision as well as representatives of staff, student groups, and part-time (adjunct) faculty (if they are entitled to a representative). At the other levels, representatives of these constituencies vote on the proposal.
Curiously, proposals for academic programs and courses only contain a course title and description, as well as the number of credits. That’s because the principle of academic freedom protects what faculty can teach. According to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, academic freedom is “the right to teach, learn, study and publish free of orthodoxy or threat of reprisal and discrimination” (CAUT 2023). When teaching a course, instructors need to create a syllabus that reflects their interpretation of the course description. Furthermore, in most North American universities, faculty own the copyright to their course materials for classroom courses. (Ownership of copyright to online courses varies depending on the institution and the extent of investment it makes in the design and development of the online course.)
By contrast, decision making regarding training programs varies depending on the type of organization. Continuing Education programs of universities and professional associations usually have a committee that reviews and approves suggested program and course proposals. In workplaces that train their workers, management usually makes the decision but usually delegates the preparation of course and program proposals to a staff member with planning. However, the manager retains decision making responsibility. Companies that develop and market courses try to respond to perceived needs in the market. Some companies use market research to determine what to offer; others use more instinctive approaches.
In many instances, training providers prepare not only a course title and description, but some or all of the course itself and expect instructors to teach the course as designed though they can, with permission, make adjustments. To ensure that instructors teach courses as intended, some providers actually certify instructors to teach courses. The certification processes vary but usually involve someone from the provider observing at least one class session of the instructor. In these instances, the training provider owns the copyright to the course.
In some instances, however, when instructors bring sought-after expertise, the training provider sometimes lets the instructor create their own course. Ownership of the copyrights to that course is negotiated between the two parties.
Similarity: Focus on Student Outcomes
At their core, both education and training focus on student outcomes. Both the Centers for Teaching and Learning in colleges and universities (which support instructors in their teaching) and training departments suggest starting the design of a course by identifying the objectives that students who complete it should achieve. Then both groups advise instructors to next prepare the evaluation, which assesses the extent to which students have achieved the objectives. Last, instructors should choose and sequence instruction and practice activities so that students can master the objectives. Instructors should not include material that does not support one of the objectives.
Similarity: Teaching Facilities and Media
Education and training both occur in one of these situations:
- A physical classroom, which usually has seating for students, a place for an instructor at the front of the room, and audiovisual equipment for sharing slides, videos, and other media. Most college and university classes occur in buildings with several classrooms. Training classes can take place in a variety of types of classrooms including ones like those in colleges and universities as well as meeting rooms in office buildings, conference centers, and hotels.
- Self-study e-learning, which are courses that learners take online at their own pace and at their own convenience. To track student progress and completion, most organizations direct students to these online courses through a Learning Management System like Brightspace, Canvas, or Moodle. Before the pandemic, self-study courses were the most common types of digital learning that people took in both industry and academe, though its prevalence was far higher in industry, with over 40% of all training offered this way (according to the 2021 State of the Industry report).
- Virtual classroom, which is an online meeting space where learners and instructors can meet at the same time. Instruction in the virtual classroom shares similarities with physical classrooms such as instructors lecturing, students responding, and instructors breaking students into groups. Because the experience occurs online, however, some feel it lacks the intimacy of the in-person classroom.
Similarity: Characteristics of Effective Teaching
One more similarity between education and training is what makes effective teaching. Stakeholders in both environments seek student engagement, noting that engaged students are more likely to learn than those who are disengaged.
Although learners’ incentives to engage differ (grades for education, benefits of improved skills for training), the means of engagement show relatively strong similarities. Learners in both situations seek opportunities to work through problems and cases in class, to share and critique draft work, and to participate in discussions and instructors in both situations seek to provide these opportunities.
Opportunities and Challenges for Those Who Want to Teach
For those who have an interest in teaching in colleges and universities, training, or continuing education, this exploration of similarities and differences suggests opportunities and challenges. The primary opportunities emerge from the similarities between the two types of teaching: those who have honed teaching skills in one environment can transfer them to another.
The primary challenges emerge from the differences between the two environments. For example, someone who is used to teaching one- to three-hour class sessions twice a week might find themselves physically challenged teaching for two to three full-day sessions. Similarly, someone who is used to teaching training classes without grading might feel overwhelmed by the first few graded assignments in an education context. Requests for tutoring and advice from learners in college and university courses might also present a new experience. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be navigating the number and complexity of rules and regulations in higher education that often do not exist in training contexts.
For those who have taught training courses and would like to teach in colleges and universities, teaching in continuing education programs, which have features of both training and higher education courses, offers a bridging experience.
“Academic Freedom.” Academic Freedom. Accessed July 6, 2023. https://www.caut.ca/latest/publications/academic-freedom.
Carliner, Saul. (2012.) Informal Learning Basics. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.
Eraut, Michael. “Informal learning in the workplace.” Studies in continuing education 26, no. 2. 2004. 247-273.
Malcolm, Janice, Phil Hodkinson, and Helen Colley. “Informality and formality in learning: a report for the Learning and Skills Research Centre.” Learning and Skills Research Centre, 2003.
Saul Carliner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Professor and Chair of Education at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. He has teaching experience in training, continuing education, and higher education contexts. He has received the Jay Gould Award for Excellence in Teaching Technical Communication, the Canadian Network for Innovation Award for Excellence in Instructional Design, and the Concordia University Alumni Award for Teaching.