Are Education and Training Perfect Partners?

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Wednesday, October 19, 2022
By Karina Koch
Illustration by iStock/wenjin chen
The future of work demands that we view education and training not as separate endeavors, but as equally necessary aspects of lifelong learning.
  • As we move deeper into the Fourth Industrial Age, it is increasingly critical that we understand the interconnections between education and training.
  • We must challenge assumptions that training is suitable primarily for manual workers and education is reserved for professionals—instead, we must imagine a future in which everyone pursues both.
  • To be prepared for the future of work, employees will require a combination of immersive training and disciplined education encompassing a wide range of learning experiences.


As young people step from full-time school or higher education into their professional careers, they might assume that they have completed their formal educations. They might anticipate that, if they are fortunate, they will participate in occasional additional training during their careers.

When we think of training, we often think of learning opportunities provided by large corporations to help their employees increase productivity, implement new technology, adopt best practices important to the firm’s management, and advance through the company hierarchy.

Small and medium-sized organizations, which often lack the resources to provide training in-house, may train employees by enrolling them in courses or bringing in world-renowned leaders in their fields. By seeking out premium resources, companies enable their staff members to shape bespoke training journeys for themselves.

By contrast, when we think of education, we think of adults—whether as individuals or with the support of their companies—attending school to pursue broader-based knowledge. This pursuit is often in the form of a degree program.

People so widely share the view that “education” is classroom- and theory-based, while “training” is skills- or practice-based, it has become a truism. Conventional wisdom marks the following contrasts between education and training:

Training Education
Pursuit of ability
Pursuit of knowledge
Improves performance and productivity
Improves reasoning and judgment
Emphasizes skills development
Emphasizes knowledge development
Concerned with practical applications
Concerned with theoretical foundations

Yet even if we still generally accept these definitions, the idea of making clear distinctions between education and training as “practice versus theory” is already under strain.

For example, consider common subjects for formal training events such as diversity, unconscious bias, assertiveness, collaboration, and leadership. No instructor can tackle these topics without first teaching the background, principles, and sociopolitical meaning behind them.

In these cases, participants must receive a foundation of education to support any practical training. The same is true in the opposite direction: Education alone will not take a person far in the real world. Or, as author and consultant Ian MacRae puts it in a 2017 article, “It is possible to teach someone about buoyancy, fluid dynamics, water displacement and coastline safety, but that knowledge will not make them a good swimmer.” 

If an element of education underpins all training programs and if practical experience is a vital element of education, is there still value in maintaining an entrenched understanding of their differences? I believe there is, if only so we better understand how to deploy both in ways that they reinforce each another.

Training as a ‘Promise to the Community’

People who are privileged to begin their lives with a modern, liberal education—encompassing primary, secondary, and especially higher education—often receive many advantages over their lifetimes. They enjoy a boost to their incomes, health, life expectancies, and life satisfaction, compared to those who grow up in less privileged circumstances. These benefits were shown in a 1999 study by Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger.

Such relative gains are particularly linked to institution-based, conceptual education. They do not relate to training, whether in skills or in awareness of issues relevant to the workplace.

Some might find it distasteful to view education as an investment with a tangible return. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that a broad education encompassing the humanities, sciences, and liberal arts creates a more “rounded” student. This view is undoubtedly subjective, and yet it’s one that many people share.

By contrast, training is commonly defined as applied knowledge for a particular occupation, and it has immense value for both employers and employees. Also described as human resource development (HRD) or continuing professional development (CPD), training provides a language and conceptual framework for people to advance in their careers. HRD and CPD also enable companies to invest simultaneously in upskilling their workforces and improving productivity.

As Becht, a multinational engineering corporation, explains in a 2019 blog post, “Training is a promise to the employees and the community that your company is doing all that it can to stay safe, up to date, and prepared for any situations that may arise.”

Education Is Not Just for Elites

From a historical perspective, the ideas surrounding training and education represent two different socioeconomic expectations of young people and their prospects. As Thomas N. Garavan explains in a 1997 paper, for centuries, classics-based education was reserved for the ruling elites, while training was a preserve of skilled craftsmen. Most agricultural laborers enjoyed neither schooling nor training.

Before the Industrial Revolution, Garavan writes, “training was essentially designed to equip the apprentice with skills which would be used throughout his/her career. Master status, within the context of the trade guilds in England and Ireland, implied that the craftsperson had acquired the full complement of skills and knowledge for the independent execution of his/her craft.” He continues, saying, “It was assumed that the demands of the job would not alter significantly during the working life to warrant other forms of training.”

As the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum, primary education became more widespread in advanced economies. In the United States and Europe, primary education became compulsory toward the end of the 19th century—England passed its Education Act in 1880, and all U.S. states had made primary education for children ages five to 14 compulsory by 1930. Based on emerging notions of children’s educational needs, the curriculum included arithmetic, reading, and writing.

We can challenge the assumption that training is relevant only for those seeking on-the-job skills and that education is suitable only for the privileged elite.

But once children reached secondary school age, the curriculum for working class children diverged sharply from that for the elite: Private schools taught the classics and philosophy, while church and government schools trained children to enter vocations.

During the mid-20th century, schools increasingly began to resemble factories, with bells ringing in the start and end of each day (shift?) and desks positioned in neat, orderly rows. Students learned to follow directions without questioning either the content or the authority of their teachers.

Although schools have transformed significantly since the days when children were expected to help in the fields during the long summer holiday, it’s easy to wonder whether a whole new approach to education might be overdue. Perhaps as the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold, we can challenge the assumption that training is relevant only for those seeking practical, on-the-job skills and that education is suitable only for the gifted or privileged elite.

Rather than dividing the next generation into cadres of manual workers or professionals, could we imagine a future in which everyone benefits from both training and education?

Adaptation Through Apprenticeships

In a 2008 paper, Alan Blinder, economist and former vice-chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, argues that education at both primary and secondary levels needs to adapt to the changing expectations and ambitions of young people. Blinder suggests that, at a time when many service and manufacturing jobs are being off-shored to countries where labor is less costly, young people should pursue careers that must be done in person, such as those in medicine, teaching, social work, plumbing, and even flower arranging.

“The new curriculum for the Information Age must emphasize attributes and skills in which we humans hold comparative advantages over machines,” Blinder explains. “To me, that suggests a style of teaching and a curriculum that features (in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic) communication and interpersonal skills, group interactions, puzzle solving, learning by doing, experimentation, and perhaps even epistemic video games.”

In professional environments where technology is constantly changing, no workers will utilize only one set of skills throughout their careers. In this case, how can we adapt our understanding of education and training? Traditional distinctions that view education as theoretical and training as vocational no longer reflect the lived experience of the workforce.

One noteworthy example of the way education and training are coalescing is the Degree Apprenticeship program. In partnership with companies, business schools in the U.K. offer a wide variety of apprenticeships in which students study for business degrees while they work full time. This program enables young people who might not think of themselves as typical business school candidates to graduate with business or management degrees without spending years in full-time higher education.

Companies offering degree-based apprenticeships include household names such as Tesco, Aldi, Boots, and Unilever. These degree apprenticeships have rapidly expanded since the scheme was launched in 2015. They now are running at City University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Loughborough University, University of Exeter, Liverpool John Moores, and many other institutions.

Degree apprenticeships go beyond the dichotomy between learning and training to enable students to learn through experience as they work in real-world environments.

Similar models also can be found elsewhere in the world: Australia maintains a website that directs students to school-based apprenticeship opportunities, and there are some programs in the U.S. with more limited reach.

Degree apprenticeships go beyond the dichotomy between learning and training. They enable students to learn through experience as they work in real-world environments with inspirational colleagues in professional and academic settings. Though not suitable for everyone, such collaborations between industry and institutions will surely develop and strengthen in the coming decades.

Is All Career Preparation ‘Training’?

Long before degree apprenticeships emerged, educational philosopher Richard Stanley Peters defined education and training differently, in what was then considered a radical new way. He argued in 1972, as well as with co-authors in 1975, that training could be as theoretical and intellectual as education, and that traditional schooling could no longer be fundamentally separated from lifelong skills development.

Peters sensed that, in the future, preparation for all types of work would require intense training, not only for simple tasks, but also for high-level cognitive activity. In Peters’ view, both education and training require people to dedicate themselves to learning, whether for a tangible purpose or purely for academic attainment.

This delicate shift was summarized in 1995 by educator Peter Mckenzie, who defended the idea that education and training are still different, despite society’s fundamental transformation to an information economy. Mckenzie reinforces Peters’ view that, when the focus is on preparing people to become “competent practitioners” in any context, “we may, by virtue of the directionality and focused nature of the enterprise, reasonably talk about ‘training.’”

Training Will Be a Constant Presence

Without engaging with new ideas, technologies, and practices throughout our lives, we will miss out on an extraordinary wealth of opportunities, experiences, and challenges. That’s why training should and will be a constant presence in young people’s lives, as they explore industries that do not exist today and could not have been imagined in previous generations.

Traditional education is critical for developing an open mind, skepticism of present endeavors, and awe of past achievements. But learning to grow and create the novel rainbow of skills that will shape our future society will require us to take a different approach to learning. We must combine immersive training with disciplined education, in ways that ensure people experience every different shade of learning experiences across this vast spectrum.

Karina Koch
Editor, The Business & Management Collection, Henry Stewart Talks
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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