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Learning in Academic vs. Corporate Settings

Culture Clash

The other day I wrote a post on the cultural language differences I observed during our recent Comment Challenge. It was actually part of a large issue I've been thinking about in terms of the "edu-blogosphere" and what that really means. Who's included in that realm? Is it just "academics" or does it also include people who do corporate training?

Now I see that Tom Werner has written an excellent post suggesting that corporate trainers and higher ed folks shouldn't be lumped together, as their technology and learning issues are very different. He has a 10 item list that shows exactly how they differ. (BTW--I'd include the K-12 system in with the higher ed group in looking at this list).

Tom's final paragraph sums up what I think has been going on:

I think some learning-technology discussions get bogged down because Person A is thinking about an online college philosophy course on Blackboard, while Person B is thinking about a corporate sales training course on SumTotal.

These are really different things.

Yes, they are--and I think that's one of our problems in this sphere. We don't always recognize where the other person is coming from when they make their arguments. I'm not sure what the answer is--I wouldn't want to see the two groups go entirely separate ways, as I think we can learn much from each other. But to do so, we also have to recognize where we're working in very different environments with different kinds of constraints.

What do you think? Do corporate trainers and teachers have more in common or are they really only tangentially related to one another? Are there things we could learn from each other that would benefit our practices in both realms? How do we capitalize on our differences?


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Kia Ora Michele

Having been a corporate trainer (5y) AND a school teacher (much more) I think I can help you with an answer. I'll be as brief as possible.

Corporate training delivers specific training on the spot - often just in time. It addresses training though. These are skills (and knowledge) that may not necessarily involve concepts. I say may not,
for there are occasions when concepts are required to be delivered. An example of this was when I trained people in file management - the use of the file in folder in folder is a concept that some trainees need to be reminded of.

In teaching secondary students in mathematics and science there were skills and knowledge that they needed as well as concepts.

Here pedagogy came to the fore. I will take one instance here - that associated with scaffolding. For instance, teaching a Y12 student how to balance a chemical equation requires a series of concepts, skills and knowledge to be taught - not something that can be done too quickly with most students. The order of teaching is extremely important, for a student with no previous knowledge will not understand the importance of correct symbols and formulae that are required (to be known) before even attempting to write a chemical equation, let alone getting it balanced.

Here's where I get on my hobby horse. Training and education are simply not the same. There are some overlaps and I won't elaborate here.

But the one liner "knowing what to do when you don't know what to do" goes a long way to defining the difference between someone who has an element of education in an area and someone who has had training only.

Frankly, education should be preparation for life, whereas training is preparation for routine. When the routine changes training may be required over again, however slight.

In our context the education is knowing to look for the RSS feed icon when you come across a new blog AND knowing what it means to invoke it.

Someone who has never been introduced to the concept of what the RSS does will never go looking for the little icon - anywhere.

Training, on the other hand, helps one who knows (is educated in) the concept of RSS to look for different ways to add subscription if the first method attempted doesn't work. This example is very simplistic but I use it to illustrate. ;-)

Ka kite

I am a grad student in Instructional Design @ FSU. I am also a corporate technical training developer. I believe from my interactions with my classmates who are involved with K-12 or higher ed that we are only tangentially related to each other.

I think you can even go a step further - I think people doing technical training are not the same as people do soft skills training.

There is also much more literature about the educational needs of K-12 and higher ed.

Tena koe Michele

Having given much more thought to the whole business of the differences and similarities between trainers and teachers, and written a post on the topic, I've come to the conclusion that there are more differences than similarities.

Good teaching should begin with pre-testing (diagnostic testing)and subsequent practice maintains a whole cycle of pedagogical events. As I mentioned in my last comment, the scaffolding that able teachers are observant of is both a tool and an indicator of where the student is at.

I'm not so sure that corporate training relies so heavily on scaffolding per se. That's not to say that it shouldn't.

I think a lot of trainers would benefit their trainees if they were more careful to tailor the course closely to the real training needs by first doing so-called needs-analysis.

However, needs-analysis is more a means of metering the gaps that have to be filled, whereas diagnostic testing more often identifies the need for appropriate scaffolding to be introduced.

Here is where we meet part of the overlap that I said in my previous comment I wouldn't address. This is where teachers may well improve their teaching if they used needs analysis (some may call it diagnostic testing but there is a real difference) and the trainers may improve their instructing if they understood more about scaffolding.

(Just as an aside - needs analysis often points to training needs. An example of a teacher using this would be in providing an able student, new to using a calculator, with some instructional help on how to use it.)

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

@Michele, @Gina - I'm just turning the bold off. I think it was a html tag that I miss-typed (yes, it's my fault!) Funny that it seems to carry on to the next comment.

That's html I guess.

Catchya later

Hmmm--Ken, between your comments here and your post, lots of food for thought, which, of course, is getting us into that age-old discussion of the differences between "education" and "training."

I will say that it's my belief that knowledge workers need professional development activities that are much more sophisticated than simple training on "rote" activities. When you write, "Education is preparation for life and training is preparation for routine," I think that's where we have a problem. I'm not sure I agree with that statement, but more than that, there are few jobs left where there isn't a need for people to not only know how to do something, but why.

Although I agree that as things stand now, education and training activities seem to be only partially related to one another, as you point out, Gina, I also think that we need to do a better job of overlapping. I'm not sure that I see a reason for them to be so distant from one another and, to the extent that the "academic" system and workplace learning systems are disconnected, I think a lot of people are getting poor quality learning experiences because we're not taking from the best of each tradition. My thinking anyway.

The corporate world does both "education" ("Am I making an ethical choice?") and "training" ("Which button should I push?"). So it might be most useful to refer to the audiences as "academic" and "corporate" rather than "education" and "training."

In my experience, a major difference between the two realms is the different amount of emphasis they place on using new knowledge in the real world.

I've designed elearning for the K-12 market and have written course plans for teachers in grades 6-12. Now I work almost entirely in corporate elearning.

My academic clients tended to focus on knowledge in the abstract: They wanted lots of concepts but not a huge amount of application, except to test that the learner understood the concepts. The application of the concepts tended to be abstract, such as answering questions on a test or basing new concepts on the first. The learners were not expected to immediately apply the knowledge to their lives.

The corporate clients usually want both concepts and behavior change. They want learners to be able to apply the concepts in the real world, such as determining if a cross-border financial trade they have been offered is ethical and legal.

These differences become important when I write or present, because the academics in the audience don't always "get" the corporate need to design information so it will be acted on (like my "action mapping" model). The academics are more comfortable with organizing and presenting the information as information rather than as future actions. This can result in a lecture-style delivery that isn't popular in the corporate world.

A lot of my work involves helping corporate educators move away from the academic model to create significantly tighter, more actionable materials.

At the same time, I think the corporate world can learn a lot from academicians' experiments with social learning and user-created materials. While I understand corporations' need for control over information, I think they would benefit if they would loosen their grip on the learner.

Thanks, Cathy for your excellent comment--I agree with everything you're saying and think that this is worthy of its own post as you're summarizing far better than I have some of the differences we see. I will be elevating this shortly!

Tēnā kōrua
@Cathy, @Michele - I would hesitate to put ethics into the realm of education. After all, ethics by its very derivation is associated with a set of professional rules verging on the corporate, and not necessarily moral by some beliefs.

But back to education. Before he died in 1934, Vygotsky identified the zone of proximal development. This primarily involved studies on the critical learning zone during the education of a child by the mother - lauded by present-day education gurus as a basis for education pedagogy but hardly academic.

So we're really discussing terms and what they mean here. When we are all so bamboozled that we don't know what we each are referring to when a term is used, the discussion becomes a nonsense with fuzzied agendas and dubious intent.

But you are right about the 'age-old' discussion, Michele. I think the problem is that it often has been in the too hard pile even for some education gurus to put into words what they mean when they refer to training or education. That's when it becomes academic for some.

For me, it's all learning.

Ka kite

I've come in late on this one. My response is short and sweet and I agree with Ken. Forget the descriptors, it's all learning. I'm more concerned with how to progress learning than to define it.

Kia ora Michele!

I just read her comment on Virginia Yonkers' own post in response to mine on that same post. It struck a chord and I remembered about the conversation we had here.

Virginia's point is an important one highlighting a significant difference between training and education. I just had to bring it to your attention :-)

Check it out.

Ka kite

Hi Ken, I agree that unlearning is an important process, although I'd disagree with Virginia about it only being the case in training.

Howard Gardner has done a lot of research
into this issue and one of his findings is that all of us develop ideas (often they are misconceptions) about how the world works starting from a very young age. One of the things that all teachers need to deal with in the classroom is helping students to unearth and challenge these pre-conceptions so that they are then able to replace them with more accurate information about how the world works. Interestingly, one of the reasons that many students have difficulty with science is because they've absorbed early lessons that are wrong and so when they are faced with information in a science classroom that feels counter-intuitive, they have difficulty absorbing it.

I think unlearning is actually something that needs to happen as part of all kinds of learning, whether we call that learning "training" or "education." :-)

Kia ora Michele!

I tend to agree with you firmly on all counts. In fact Science in particular has progressed by a cyclical pathway of collective learning and unlearning.

I have always maintained that it's a poor scientist who is dogmatic about the theory being correct. Truth is it seldom is. Einstein would have agreed with that I'm sure and so would Stephen Hawking.

Science is a way of observing, discovering, explaining why, and thinking about how. It's when the good scientist gets to the last part that it's usually time to go back to the observation phase and the whole thing starts over again.

I use the metaphor of the atom. Dalton got it right in part when he said the atom was a particle. So did JJ Thompson, but his atom had particles in it! So did Bohr and his atomic particles were different from Thompson's. So did a whole string of scientists working on the same thing up till the present.

Now the scientists are not sure whether quarks are truly fundamental particles that make up the particles that make up atoms. Sheesh, it is complex. And Dalton thought the atom was a simple thing!

But that's what Science is about - a series of learning and unlearning time after time. Science, collectively, has built on what it learnt progressively but also in an almost serendipitous way as it finds out that it didn't get it quite right the first time.

Learning anything is like that. Just watch a 1 year old learning how to do something - it's fun.

Ka kite

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