Fun is to Entertainment as Education is to Training

How often have you heard a teacher say something to the effect that their job is not to entertain? My guess is pretty often. I know I have heard it a lot. Teachers jobs are to educate. What bothers me though is that learning should be fun! I just love to learn. That is why I read, why I attend conferences, why I do many things. I enjoy learning. I think learning should be fun and enjoyable. I see fun as different from entertainment. Basically entertainment is passive. One sits and watches someone else do something interesting and entertaining. Fun is participatory. Fun is taking part in the experience rather than just observing. I think to some extent a teacher’s job should be partly about making learning fun.

WP_000035Where does education v. training come into play? Professor Woodie Flowers (that is him with meat the FIRST Robotics Championship) talks a lot about the difference between education and training. I heard him talk about that very thing yesterday and it continues to resonate with me. In part he says (quoting from a recent article at A Contrarian View of MITx: What Are We Doing!? )

I believe that education and training are different. To me, training is an essential commodity that will certainly be outsourced to digital systems and be dramatically improved in the process. Education is much more subtle and complex and is likely to be accomplished through mentorship or apprentice-like interactions between a learner and an expert.

In effect education is more participatory. It is a joint effort between a student and a mentor. Training is important as it means getting the basic knowledge and tools that make real education possible. Education becomes more about understanding the basics and making them useful. Education is, I believe, potentially a lot more fun.

The FIRST robotics experience is an example of the mentorship model that takes training and develops it as education. Students and professionals work together and students learn, are educated, rather than just learn basic skills with little to no context. This is the model I believe most teachers want. Teaching to the test unfortunately is just training. And not a lot of fun. Worse still it is not that practical.

A couple of years ago at Microsoft we started some work on a new curriculum set for web development. We had (have and better than ever) a product called Expression Web that we felt would be great for the task. We talked to a lot of teachers and they told us loud and clear that they were not interested in training students how the use Expression Web. What they wanted was to educate their students in web design and development concepts. Expression Web was a great tool for the process though. And so that was our goal – education not just training.  We developed some widely used curriculum at Microsoft Expression for Educators. I think though that the active involvement of teachers is important with any curriculum.

The context and guidance of a knowledgeable and caring professional really goes a long way.  Yes you can learn a lot on your own from books, web casts, and other curriculum but for me that personal touch is what really makes it education.