Education vs. Learning: The Difference and Why One Isn’t Enough For Preparedness
Nothing in the education system is more obsolete, and does less to prepare students for adulthood, than the classic high school schedule of four core classes and a few exploratories. Ask the students. They report feeling extremely underprepared to meet the challenges of modern life, yet American schools insist on teaching complex maths and in-depth details of historical events instead of how to handle finances or navigate a gig economy. Students are receiving an education, but they’re not receiving the proper learning experience, and the difference is what affects their futures.
According to the official definitions, education is the process in which knowledge, values and skills are passed down at one point in life while learning is defined as acquiring new knowledge, values and skills. This difference can easily be explained through a story of a real high school student. Tiffany Cabrera, a high school senior at the time of the TEDTalk video’s publication, discusses her concern over the education system. Her class was asked a question in government class about political polarization. It made her realize that she and her peers did not know how to respond truly in their own opinion on the subject. This meant that information had just been fed to them and not taught in order for them to form their own ideas. This situation made Tiffany question the current education system. She explains that when we hear the word education, we think of memorizing information for a test and once the test is over, we forget everything. What if we applied knowledge that we were interested in? She believes that this will help us learn not only information, but skills to be active members of society. Instead of making a silly poster project that could be done in 30 minutes, why not take on a bigger project that will actually help us learn?
So it can be said that education gets in the way of our learning. Learning is an ongoing process that begins at birth and ends when we die. A baby is using the learning process when they attempt to crawl or walk just as much as an adult learning how to cook or deal with their finances. Education is only a temporary way of passing down information. When thinking about it, education begins at the age of five and goes to the age of 18 or possibly through someone’s mid twenties if they decide to attend higher education. After that, education ends.
As someone who is currently studying education, we become educators, but we study the process of learning. There are many types of learners and there are three distinct types of learning. Some people learn information/skills visually, others auditorily, and many kinesthetically. It is possible to adopt more than one type of learning, but there is always one type that exceeds the rest. Visual and kinesthetic learning come out on top as the most common and successful ways of learning. By definition, learning is gaining knowledge through experience and physically doing. Education is nothing other than being fed information. When I think back to my days in public school, I distinctly remember when I thoroughly learned a topic and when I didn’t. Unfortunately, a lot of the time I did not learn, mostly because my teachers just fed us information where it went in one ear and out the other or they handed out packets to read and rely on for “learning” the information. Moments where I truly learned were when my teachers took the time to have class discussions and practice using the knowledge by asking questions/problems often for us to answer. Doing so hits each of the three types of learning so that the whole class can learn to their own strengths. For example, one student may learn better by discussing audibly, another can learn better with graphics and explanation, and others learn by physically practicing what they learn. Though all students have different strengths, one way of learning seems to make more of an impact.
There is a famous “Learning Pyramid” that educators use to dictate how to conduct lessons. It shows the different ways to deliver a lesson and the percentage of retention for those approaches. For example, a lecture only yields a 5% retention rate while having students teach others yields a 90% retention rate of the material. Teaching others material involves the student having a deep understanding of the material in order to relay it to others. The deep understanding comes from picking up the propper skills to learn the material instead of being educated on it. This is classified as kinesthetic learning since it is a physical practice. Seeing that 5% of retention comes from lectures shows that this strategy is more education, while having students practice doing or teaching others is learning since the retention rate is so much higher. Another benefit to the practicing and teaching method is the fact that students are collaborating together in small groups in order to learn. This is specifically called cooperative learning, and the social aspect of this retention process contributes to this important life skill, which students are also being deprived of and goes hand and hand with the education problem. Teachers can use this pyramid to reflect on their lessons and compare what education is going on versus learning.
Through some word investigation, there is a clear difference between education and learning. There is also evidence of many teachers going the education route to teach their students as seen in Tiffany’s video, but we can convince them that education is not the way to go if you want students to retain information and build proper life skills. A large part of a teacher’s job is reflection on oneself. It is time for them and education systems to look at themselves more as learning systems.
S, P. (2011, July 28). Difference Between Education and Learning.
The Learning Pyramid. (2020). Education Corner. (n.d.).
TEDTalk. When School is Counterintuitive. (2017, August 25).