Recently I again had a short-term job as a trainer for a nationally produced and prescribed programme focused on a specific and, necessarily, standardised series of events. In the past, my role has generally been as an educator. So, appointment to this training role led me to think again about the differences between being a trainer and being an educator. The following is based on my own experiences and reflections only, and is written as a provocation to discussion, an invitation to those who are more experienced and/or have studied the writing of theorists and can inform the rest of us.
What is a Trainer?
From my experience and understanding, being a trainer involves imparting skills and knowledge that trainees need for their workplace or the particular tasks in question. The trainer takes care that these trainees learn and are able to perform the skills required, and guides them to an appropriate level of proficiency. Safety, labour laws, national standards and workplace expectations are likely to be included, and the workers or potential workers must become skilful, proficient and, if required, legally certified in the particular skill set. There is an emphasis on conforming to strict standards and protocols as laid down by experts and authorities in the field, including governments. Such standards may well have been laid down by the dominant culture of the particular society and may or may not take into account cultural, spiritual or psychological differences. Following the training, the ‘trainees’ gain employment in the area specific to the training and perform the particular skills, under supervision, in their workplaces and become experts or masters in that particular area. At a future time, the same people may be trained to perform a new, perhaps more senior or complex, task, and the cycle is repeated. There is a very clear connection between the workplace skills (including knowledge and attitudes) required and the training to master those skills.
What is an Educator?
An educator has a slightly different role. As an adult educator who has spent many years training other adult educators, I see an educator as someone who, while teaching particular skills and knowledge, also seeks to empower and inspire the participants in the educational experience to reach higher, to develop their own skills, to enlarge their aspirations, to go further and wider in their career or future roles than they had previously envisaged. There is an emphasis on transferable skills – the possibility of taking the skills, knowledge and attitudes learnt into a wide range of different careers, roles or situations. Thus, while education may be focused on a particular set of skills, knowledge and attitudes, there is a wider view of education, learning and individual or group potential. The educator creates space for and encourages celebration of diversity and expression of the spiritual, psychological and cultural. There may be a focus on lifelong learning and the desirability of returning to an educational context to learn additional skills, update, or change direction completely. Following completion of the course or programme, graduating students or participants move on to take up careers and roles in a wide range of related areas and, perhaps, become leaders and train others.
Looking back at what I originally wrote three years ago, I still believe in the role of an educator as being different from that of a trainer. However, since I wrote the original blog I have added to my adult educator role; I have taken up managing a homework centre for school-aged children in a lower socio-economic area of my city. There can be a wide range of ages at any given session, and there are no enrolments and no set curriculum or particular skill set to be taught; the children come from several different local schools and different classrooms within those schools. My role is to support the children with homework and/or research tasks, guide them and monitor their use of the free laptops, tablets and wi-fi, offer them a simple afternoon tea and encourage them in the use of books and board games as appropriate. Literacy, numeracy, IT and oral communication skills are the main focus. Occasionally a child needs to be taught specific skills, but more often my role is simply to support, guide, supervise and monitor. The aim of these sessions is that children are supported in their learning, so that areas of disadvantage are reduced, and a wider range of future options and opportunities becomes possible. Yet, in this work with younger learners, all of the outcomes I have mentioned above (concerning adult education) are identical. Even in this context of school-aged children, my role is as an educator, rather than a trainer.
My experience in both adult and schoolchild education indicates that there are differences between being a trainer and being an educator. A trainer focuses on knowledge, skills and attitudes in relation to a specific work-related context. On the other hand, an educator may focus more strongly on the learners themselves and on their potential, and may encourage diversity and expression of the psychological, spiritual and cultural, while imparting specific skills, knowledge and attitudes.