Online Training vs. Online Education

 

If you are a fan of what is called “online education,” you might want to read the piece my friend Cliff Orwin published today in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. The key to understanding his contention that online and education are terms that do not belong together is the fact that he distinguishes education from training: “By ‘education,'” he writes,

I don’t mean training or even mere instruction. Widget-making (however complex the widget) may well be teachable online. By education I mean formation of the whole person, to which the humanities have traditionally aspired – as have the natural and social sciences in their noblest conceptions of themselves.

Orwin does not deny that an electronic component can be useful. He recognizes that viewing a lecture on a screen from afar at one’s leisure can be an advantage. But he insists that something of great importance will always be missing.

The New York Times of July 19 contained an excellent column by the University of Virginia’s Mark Edmundson. He explained why teaching requires the physical presence of the students. Prof. Edmundson likens good teaching to jazz. It is inherently responsive and improvisational. You revise your presentation as it goes, incorporating the students’ evolving reception of it. In response to their response, as individuals and as a group, you devise new variations on your theme. You don’t address students in the abstract or as some anonymous throng scattered throughout cyberspace. You always teach these students, in this room, at this time.

So it matters to me to know who my students are, to know their faces and names, to see how they dress and what they’re reading. I need to talk to them before and after class and listen to what they’re saying among themselves. Above all, it’s crucial for me to hear their voices as they answer my questions and ask their own, to heed their inflections and mark the expressions on their faces. In my large introductory course, I devote a third of the time to discussion. That’s not just so the students can probe me, but so I can probe them.

It’s equally important to the students that I’m there. They need a real person with whom to engage. Someone to interrogate. Someone to persuade them. Someone to resist. Someone with whom they can identify or refuse to identify. Because education addresses the whole person, it requires a real person to model it. It matters to the students not just to hear what I say but to hear the voice in which I say it – the hesitations as well as the certainties. They need an example of someone who, like them, is learning as he goes along – but just happens to be further along than they are.

Live education is expensive, you say? The best things in life tend to be.

What Orwin is arguing for here is, of course, a liberal education, and he knows perfectly well that such an education is not suitable for everyone. But I think that, within the limits he sets, his argument is sound.

The most important course I ever took was a seminar taught on Plato’s Republic at Cornell in 1968/69 by Allan Bloom. I vigorously resisted his argument; I fought against him both terms; and, in part for that reason, he was never especially fond of me. But the exchanges we had nonetheless changed my life. I fought him until he persuaded me, and those exchanges inspired me to do a great deal of reading in subsequent years as I struggled to understand through the lens of certain great books what was going on all around me.

There was  an electricity in that seminar that I have always tried to replicate in my classes. My aim is to provoke and to inspire — to get the students to interrogate the texts that they are reading and to think. And when I succeed, as I sometimes do, they force me to rethink — for, if they get drawn in, they either resist my interpretation or press it further than I have.

The same thing can happen as a consequence of a lecture. Most often, things come alive when I open things up for questions. Sometimes I learn things I did not know. At other times I have to think on my feet — and when I do I learn things that I would not otherwise learn. Online education cannot be much more than a pale shadow of the education that takes place in a seminar or when questions are posed.

Training may well be another matter. A video can help me see how to put a bike together. A video can teach me the rules of poker (especially if I can watch it twice). An online lecture can help me understand Hamlet. But it is not a substitute for what goes on in a seminar on Hamlet. Some things cannot be done on the cheap, alas.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Astonishing
    anonymous:  . . .  here we speak of “la formation” (training) of engineers versus “l’éducation” of those in disciplines with no obvious practical application.

    This grates upon me.

    I am an engineer, and would be the first to agree that I was “trained” in my discipline.  But I find it outrageous that one would assert that because I hadn’t spent four years in classrooms imbibing wisdom from my betters, I wasn’t educated.  . .

    In the comments of many who object to the word education being reserved for liberal education, there’s definitely a sense of being disrespected.

    Of course, what’s objected to is not the word, but the implication that education is superior to training. But if you think your experience is equal or superior to the other, why worry about the word?

    Why aren’t engineers content to brag about their “training,” to  sneer at those who are merely “educated”?

    How few in the hordes of liberally educated could have survived even a semester of an engineering program!

    Yet, although many of the engineers do sneer at those educated “in disciplines with no obvious practical application,” the sneer is more angry than contemptuous . . .  and that’s telling.

    • #61
  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Foxfier

    Well, pretty much every class I had in high school was the teacher reading off material from a book or, in the case of math, directly copying things out of the teacher’s edition.  Including the examples. If they understood it, you couldn’t tell by their teaching style, and I went to a good school.  (Example quote: “It’s not my job to teach you, it’s your job to learn.”  Seriously.  Don’t get me started on jocks skating.)

    The only counter examples were my favorite English teacher– a college teacher who couldn’t deal with the politics– and practical things like home ec, shop, and gym class.  (The teacher that did that also did a really good section in history on the 60s– from personal experience; he was really big on clean living, but didn’t use to be.)

    I really like online classes because it’s harder to skate, and bad teachers do less damage; I’d suggest using it in a hybrid format, along with shifting from year-of-birth grades to level-of-achievement grades in each subject.  Plus, make it possible to challenge a course. 

    • #62
  3. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Skyler

    Let’s be honest, folks.  If you get an “education” that only covers soft topics like English and history and philosophy where any answer can be correct depending on how you frame it, you’re not educated so much as you’re good at selling a line.  

    How many people start in engineering or science, only to drop to liberal arts because they can’t handle the math?

    If you think you’re educated and you don’t know how to do a La Place transformation, then you’re deluding yourself.  

    Anyone can study liberal arts.  It’s easy because there is no right or wrong answer.  And look what that’s done to our universities.  Liberal arts are certainly important, they are the bedrock of a basic education, but only as a starting point.

    The real problem is that people are getting and giving degrees out as though the two can be isolated.  You’re not educated until you’ve studied philosophy and theology (and learned how to reject most) and also learned how the world works from a science and math perspective.

    And to claim that science and engineering are “training” and psychology is “education” is a farce.

    • #63
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @Guruforhire
    Nick Stuart: The difference between “education” and “training” be visualized by imagining the difference in your reaction between your 13 year old daughter coming home and saying “we had sex education in school today” vs. “we had sex training in school today.”

    Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives runs (from lower order to higher order):  knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation.

    The higher you go up the taxonomy (from knowledge to evaluation) the more difficult it becomes to construct truly meaningful computer-based education (whether it’s online or on a CD or whatever is immaterial unless there’s actual live synchronous interaction between the student and teacher).

    Ergo “blended learning”. You use computer-based for the objectives for which it lends itself. That offloads time from the “live” classroom events where you can use a greater portion of the time for things, like discussion and debate, that are almost impossible to do well in an “e” format. · 35 minutes ago

    Its not almost impossible, it is routine and well established.

    • #64
  5. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Foxfier
    Astonishing

    Of course, what’s objected to is not theword, but theimplicationthat education is superior to training. But if you think your experience is equal or superior to the other, why worry about the word?

    Why aren’t engineers content to brag about their “training,” to  sneer at those who are merely “educated”?

    Animals are trained.  People are educated. It’s wobbly because of how people use language, and because English is like that, but “trained” generally does imply the learning is inferior in quality.  Doesn’t imply understanding, as “education” does. 

    Additionally, it’s not quite accurate– I was trained to be a calibration technician, and I was trained to work cattle.  Basic military calibration can be done by a monkey, you need no thinking ability, just being able to read and follow the directions; working cattle, you have to think and know how to apply that thinking.  You have to understand. 

    Training implies that it’s a mechanical sort of thing, while educated implies that thought and understanding is required.

    • #65
  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Foxfier
    Guruforhire

    Its not almost impossible, it is routine and well established. · 0 minutes ago

    To be fair, some folks can’t do it, same way I can’t draw to save my life- no matter what training I’ve been given.  Learning styles, and all that.

    • #66
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    @PaulARahe
    Mark Wilson

    Paul A. Rahe

    Preprofessional and professional study is training. It is not education. If you cannot discern the distinction, then you miss the point of my post entirely.

    Discussions like this one often contain the caveat “Oh, but engineering and science are different.”  Professor Rahe, how do you view engineering and science in the context of this conversation?  I ask because I’m in the middle of an online Master’s program in aerospace engineering from Stanford.  Do you consider that not to be education, but merely training?  Engineering is notassembling bicycles. · 3 hours ago

    Edited 3 hours ago

    For the most part, what goes on in engineering schools is training in certain techniques. When, however, you get to the cutting edge, it is indistinguishable from science.

    • #67
  8. Profile Photo Member
    @Guruforhire
    Foxfier

    Guruforhire

    Its not almost impossible, it is routine and well established. · 0 minutes ago

    To be fair, some folks can’t do it, same way I can’t draw to save my life- no matter what training I’ve been given.  Learning styles, and all that. · 26 minutes ago

    I can’t draw either.

    • #68
  9. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe

    I took a couple of hours off to watch Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino — to which I will soon return. Now there are more posts to respond to than I can manage.

    So I will say something brief. Training is learning a set of techniques. It is vitally important. In the absence of well-trained garage mechanics, accountants, nurses, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and the like, we would be in deep trouble. But we also need people who can think for themselves when inherited technique is insufficient, and we need people who can think for themselves with regard to questions that are not technical. These abilities are what the study of history, literature, philosophy, mathematics, and science (i.e., the liberal arts) are intended to nourish. I do not deny that our universities do a poor job in many of these fields. I assert it. What I would deny is that one can do this well in online courses.

    That having been said, I was tasked a couple of weeks ago with organizing an online course for Hillsdale College. We offered one in the Spring on the American Constitution. We will be offering one this Fall on the Western Heritage.

    • #69
  10. Profile Photo Member
    @Guruforhire

    Deleted

    • #70
  11. Profile Photo Member
    @Sabrdance
    Larry3435: The choice is not between having a classroom audience and sitting at some solitary computer.  I watched Michael Sandel’s series of Harvard classroom lectures on PBS, all by my lonesome, and learned more than in almost any college class I attended in person. · 1 hour ago

    You are almost certainly not typical.  The typical online student doesn’t read, doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t think about it, and doesn’t talk about it.  We’re doing very well to get them to turn in the hw, let alone do it.  In this, they are not much different from the typical student.  They need to learn and see how education works to become like you.  If we make on-line very close to a televised class -and the student pays attention -they can pick it up by osmossis.

    This is why there is so much research into getting students to pick up the good habits: active learning, mentoring from the middle, socratic method, varied teaching styles.  Internet courses make it all very hard to the not-already-highly-motivated student.

    • #71
  12. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Astonishing
    Foxfier

    Astonishing

    Of course, what’s objected to is not theword, but theimplicationthat education is superior to training. But if you think your experience is equal or superior to the other, why worry about the word?

    Why aren’t engineers content to brag about their “training,” to  sneer at those who are merely “educated”?

     . . . Training implies that it’s a mechanical sort of thing, while educated implies that thought and understanding is required.

    I do agree that most people realize the word education still implies something superior to training, otherwise engineers wouldn’t get indignant about it. (Words can be stubborn that way.) But I don’t exclude thought and understanding from training . . . or from dogs, for that matter.

    (Gotta go be sociable for a change. It’s been fun.)

    • #72
  13. Profile Photo Inactive
    @donaldtodd

    Tom L: I am persuaded that the Orwin/Rahe model of education is, in fact, the buggy whip industry circa 1910. Times change. Needs change. Forms change.

    When I worked as a city league coach, coaching young men in basketball, they wanted to win, so they competed.  When I was in class, and later taught systems engineering skills in a classroom setting, it brought out the best (eg, competitive) urge in many of these people.  They were serious about learning and then applying what they had learned.  In the questions, and in the give and take, metal was sharpening metal.  Minds were working, and clashing, in an attempt to understand the subject and then in trying to understand how to apply it.

    I actually think this is a human consideration independent of the changes in technology.  If one is to consider Aquinas or de Tocqueville, being in a classroom with a good to great teacher, and attempting to examine the idea from all sides is preferable to looking at the flat screen of a PC.

    If you have someone who cannot relate to other human beings, then the PC screen is as good as it will get.

    • #73
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @Larry3435
    Kofola

    But would you not have gotten an even better education had you had the opportunity to sit in a room and interact with Sandel and a reasonably sized group of individuals with  equal interest and engagement?  · 10 hours ago

    In my experience as an undergrad at UCLA that just never happened.  You sat in the lecture, took notes, went off and had fun.  Dorm discussions about ideas rarely related to classes.  You read Ayn Rand in your spare time and talked to friends about Atlas Shrugged.  (Law school was different.  After class, people sat over coffee and argued about the issues.  The fact that we liked doing that is why we went to law school, I suppose.)

    My objection here is to this lament for an idealized liberal arts education, that is so far from the reality of undergraduate life.  The goal of motivating people to want to learn something is a whole different issue.  People who go to school solely for the credential, and have no interest in the subject matter, will never become “educated” in the sense Prof. Rahe means.  A good teacher can spark that interest, but so can a good documentary. 

    • #74
  15. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Skyler
    Crow’s Nest:  If we have written in a shorthand which you find offensive, it is only because we are already extremely familiar with our arguments and yours and may be eliding over important points of emphasis. 

    Translation:  You proletariat are interrupting a grownup conversation.  Go away and don’t disturb us.

    The truth is this:  A lot of very smart and effective people are drawn to a liberal arts education.  They succeed because they are smart and effective people.  Some ascribe this success to their early days of education instead of themselves and then recommend their course of study to others.

    The end is, the idea of whether an online learning environment can work has been answered empirically.  So Prof. Rahe’s point is proven wrong.  The rest of his post was just needlessly insulting.  

    Yes, his distinction of education vs. training in this context is semantical.  And that’s why it’s so insulting, because it is only semantics and doesn’t change any other argument.  So the only reason to make the distinction is to insult others while supposing that it brings some virtue to himself.

    • #75
  16. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe
    Skyler: It is not only slander, but it shows a remarkable degree of ignorance as to what being an engineer, scientist, nurse or a doctor is.

    Science is not just learning techniques.  Engineering is not just copying methods.  Anyone who claims that is not educated. · 11 hours ago

    Your anger is an obstacle to understanding. No one — least of all me — has argued that science is just or even primarily learning techniques. Most of what engineers do is, however, just that, and the same is true of nearly all nurses and of most (but by no means all) physicians.

    • #76
  17. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe
    ThePullmanns: Dr. Rahe (if you ever manage to get all the way to this comment),

    The education I got at Hillsdale had convinced me of your argument before you arrived here to make it. I work in education policy and digital learning is some people’s next savior for the unwashed masses. The only counterargument I would extend is the same one made in the comments on the piece you link to: Ok, so perhaps a liberal education is the best, but many people simply cannot get the best. It’s too expensive. They’ve only realized it’s the best after having kids. Universities (and K12 schools) do not teem with the best offerings. For many, online education’s accessibility and offerings are far better than anything else available.

    So while I think it’s important to remind people of the best and hold it as an example, I think also that the best shouldn’t become a barrier to them getting as close to it as possible.

    (Incidentally, I wish I could do Hillsdale all over again! But, alas, we have kids and a mortgage.) –Joy · 10 hours ago

    Alas, you are, of course, right.

    • #77
  18. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Demaratus
    anonymous

    Paul A. Rahe

    For the most part, what goes on in engineering schools is training in certain techniques. When, however, you get to the cutting edge, it is indistinguishable from science.

    This is a foul slander of engineers.   Watch our donations to Hillsdale drop by 90% in the next decade. · 1 hour ago

    John, I think that’s only a “foul slander” if you believe pure science is higher, nobler, or better in some way than practical skill so thus accusing one of having the latter and not the former is slander (this is of the modern mindset).

    I disagree. Holding science as it is conceived today in higher esteem than practical knowledge of an extremely high degree is an error–there is a type of prudence an engineer must exercise that is of the highest level of wisdom and that is no less noble and good than working on math and experiments to develop the latest physical model of the universe, and in fact may be higher wisdom.

    Would you consider being called say a Michelangelo or a Raphael instead of a Newton to be a slander?

    Also, remember Aristotle called magnanimity (megalopsuchia) the crowning virtue.

    • #78
  19. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe
    Free Radical: $30,000 per year at Hillsdale it is out of the price range of most parents to send their children to hear Dr. Rahe lecture (when he is out of the hospital and God willing back at work). English 101, basic history, calculus … can be much more efficiently taught on line. Higher level courses can be worthwhile to be in the flesh and worth paying top dollar for. Education is a major cost burden on families and costs have to be controlled before the bubble bursts. · 9 hours ago

    Is it $30,000? I thought that the tuition was more like $20,000.

    • #79
  20. Profile Photo Inactive
    @CrowsNest
    Skyler: Translation:  You proletariat are interrupting a grownup conversation.  Go away and don’t disturb us.

    Sigh. I said nothing of the sort, and instead have been nothing but calm and expository in everything I’ve written on this thread. 

    • #80
  21. Profile Photo Contributor
    @PaulARahe
    Tom Lindholtz: Notwithstanding the fact that I graduated from a selective, small, liberal arts college; notwithstanding the fact that I worked a career in higher education, I am persuaded that the Orwin/Rahe model of education is, in fact, the buggy whip industry circa 1910. Times change. Needs change. Forms change. · 9 hours ago

    Times do change, some needs do change, and forms certainly change. But many needs are permanent: character formation, the learning of prudential judgment, and moral reflection. In this sphere, there is no substitute for personal contact and conversation. It can, of course, happen outside the classroom. There are also autodidacts who learn a great deal in the school of hard knocks. But . . . .

    • #81
  22. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Kofola
    Foxfier

    Problem being that you’re not going to get that in a live classroom, either.

    Well, that’s precisely what I said. But, once again, the reason isn’t the method. It’s our maligned understanding of the meaning and purpose of a college education that’s the problem. I think it’s extremely naive for one to think that think making everything digital is suddenly going to fix that issue. Based on my experience, I’d argue that in most cases it even makes it worse. In the meantime, it inhibits those students who would be better off maximizing their educational experience in a traditional setting.

    As you say, online education has benefits in convenience and, at least right now, cost. But there’s still many things to be lost by over reliance on it. We shouldn’t be so quick to rush out and destroy our physical universities simply because things have gone awry with them.

    • #82
  23. Profile Photo Member
    @

    In the future, both worlds will need to come together.  My conception of a future classroom of mine, involving online learning, is quite different from what we see today.  It’s a large flat screen with @ 20 student face in P-I P mode, listening to me as chosen graphics and videos go across their screen while we cover the material.  A red dot in the bottom of their image signals me that one has a question.  I see his face ask the question, and other red dots signal that others want to get it on it.  

    It would actually require some manners from the class (they must be recognized by me before they chime in) but it’s a better way to do things online and yet have the give and take feel that Dr. Rahe is talking about.

    As I’m contemplating what I will need to do this year (we are in massive changes in our format; little of which I think will be an improvement) I’m struggling with how to preserve the best of what we think of as “good teaching” when the world thinks we need “edutainment.”  I’m ready for online classes.

    sigh.

    • #83
  24. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Skyler
    Paul A. Rahe

    Your anger is an obstacle to understanding. No one — least of all me — has argued that science is just or even primarily learning techniques. Most of what engineers do is, however, just that, and the same is true of nearly all nurses and of most (but by no means all) physicians. · 31 minutes ago

    And your needless semantics obscure your point.  

    I could say that most of what liberal arts studies people do involves feeding people greasy food or answering other people’s phones.  I’m not sure specific job descriptions bolster your cause.

    • #84
  25. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Kofola
    Larry3435: I watched Michael Sandel’s series of Harvard classroom lectures on PBS, all by my lonesome, and learned more than in almost any college class I attended in person.  A good teacher is a good teacher.

    But would you not have gotten an even better education had you had the opportunity to sit in a room and interact with Sandel and a reasonably sized group of individuals with  equal interest and engagement?  Someone can educate themselves effectively by reading and engaging with the ideas. But they can educate themselves much further by then engaging in intellectual discourse with both their equals and those more experienced. This is something that cannot yet be sufficiently replicated by technology.

    On a fundamental level this practice is what every college student is positioned to do, although it more often fails in application due to bad students or professors.However, I don’t see how making everything virtual change this problem, as many people here want to suggest.  It simply moves the same problems to a different medium (while creating many new ones). In the process, it inhibits those students with initiative from maximizing their educational experience.

    • #85
  26. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Skyler

    It is not only slander, but it shows a remarkable degree of ignorance as to what being an engineer, scientist, nurse or a doctor is.

    Science is not just learning techniques.  Engineering is not just copying methods.  Anyone who claims that is not educated.

    • #86
  27. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Kofola
    Larry3435

    In my experience as an undergrad at UCLA that just never happened.

    I teach at a public university, trust me, I feel your pain every day. (Although, it is still very possible for the student to have a worthwhile educational experience at such locations, they simply need to take their own initiative in tracking down the still reliable professors and students).

    As a practical matter, your argument is valid. If you can get an equally mediocre education with better time and cost efficiency, that’s certainly the best choice. That said, it still does little in the long run to fix the core problems of our higher education system. Until we as a culture start attacking these problems at their root, medium is irrelevant.

    I fully support any role digital education might play in helping fix these problems. However, I continue to reject the claim that anyone who doesn’t support the complete digitization of education is simply a Luddite standing in the way of progress.

    • #87
  28. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Kofola
    Charles Breiling:

    I fully understand the argument that a live, in-person classroom is superior, but I’d argue online is more accessible. · 4 hours ago

    Which I think is the best argument for it, and a valid enough justification for its existence alongside more traditional, proven, organizations for education. One need not be destroyed or marginalized for the other to exist.

    • #88
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    @Foxfier
    Kofola

    But would you not have gotten an even better education had you had the opportunity to sit in a room and interact with Sandel and a reasonably sized group of individuals with  equal interest and engagement?  

    Problem being that you’re not going to get that in a live classroom, either.

    You’ll get a class that’s mostly people who would rather be somewhere else, and the teacher may or may not even be familiar with the topic– or, from the folks I’ve heard complain about modern college, even be there.  Someone mentioned that it’s a challenge to get folks to bother to turn in their home work, let alone engage in the class… sounds like folks who wouldn’t do any good in a real class, either.

    The ideal, perfect examples of classroom interaction?  Sure, that’s better than just computer learning.  But video those lectures, put them online, and have a reasonably well educated teacher stand-in to work with the folks learning, and it’s better than a normal-to-bad live classroom.  Plus, less expensive and more flexible. 

    • #89
  30. Profile Photo Member
    @

    As a litmus test, I would prefer to hire someone with a degree as it shows they can get up, do the work and get through a long term, four year project. On line training does not have the same pedigree and will not be able to change the perception of sitting in the basement in your pajamas and being more about getting a piece if paper to boost the resume.

    The undergrad degree can be philosophy, but then they do need a business degree. The CFA is a popular online course and I like to see that because it is heavy math and the test is well supervised. It gives me an idea of the financial modeling ability if they can jump the hurdles of that online training. The philosophy degree lifts the person intellectually to be able to write and present at an executive level. It also gives confidence and depth.

    But if I have an engineer undergrad, hands down winner to be hired in the finance industry.

    Question: I heard from a Canadian oil equipment company that Austin and the rest of Texas is crying out for engineers. Is this true? 

    • #90
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