Dani Houchin Petrie: Education and Training


HIgher Education Management Group member Dani Houchin Petrie spent fifteen years as a workplace performance consultant, developing training and other performance interventions for corporations and non-profits. She has a masters degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and has maintained a lifelong interest in education and opportunity. She is currently doing doctoral work at Northwestern University in the School of Education and Social Policy, using her knowledge of workplace performance as a lens through which to view higher education (especially teacher preparation). We spoke recently about “education” and “training.”

KH: The distinction between ‘education’ and ‘training’ is an old one in our field, and often contested. How do you explain the difference between the two? 

DHP: Here’s an easy way to clarify the difference: Would you want your sixth-grade son or daughter to get sex education, or sex training? Education is broadening – you learn about a field of inquiry, and you develop a capacity for understanding and learning more about it. Training teaches you how to do something – how to perform a function or role.

KH: How relevant is training to higher education? Shouldn’t higher education be focused exclusively on education?

DHP: It depends on the purpose of the degree. While historically, universities focused exclusively on education, programs that purport to prepare people for specific jobs should include a training component. Medical students not only need to learnabout the various organs in the body; they need to learn how to diagnose illness – including the use of specific procedures and tools. Prospective teachers need to grasp learning theory, which broadens their ability to understand the diverse needs of students at different developmental stages, but they also need to learn methods of teaching specific subject matter that have been proven successful in practice.

Education alone means that each individual has to figure out on his own how to translate theory into practice. This is wasteful and (research has shown) generally unsuccessful. Future practitioners of any profession need exposure to best practices that have proven successful in the field, a chance to try using them, and feedback on their performance that enables them to improve – i.e., training.

KH: Why has “training” become a dirty word for some teachers and universities?

DHP: It’s often an issue of perceived status. Someone, somewhere started saying “Dogs get training; teachers get professional development.” Personally, I think this is a little silly; officers of large corporations often participate in training. But I’ll call it whatever you want as long as we don’t expect every individual to re-invent the wheel when it comes to best practices for achieving results.

KH: What can institutions of higher learning learn from the field of workplace performance?

DHP: In the corporate world, instructional designers start with the question, “What should learners be able to do on the job after they complete this program, and how will I be able to tell whether they are doing it successfully?” Then every learning activity is geared to enabling participants to meet clear, measurable instructional objectives. Especially with increasing emphasis on accountability in higher education, this approach can help educational programs produce desired outcomes (see Michael Offerman’s blog http://www.theother85percent.com/ for how all this links to accreditation efforts).

Without measurable objectives and instructional design, university teaching can focus on the latest research to the exclusion of basic skills that every practitioner needs. As a result, people arrive on the job needing a crash course in how to actually do the work.

KH: How about vice versa? How can workplace performance benefit from the education paradigm?

DHP: The best performance improvement interventions seek to not only equip participants with new skills and tools, but to broaden their understanding of a topic (using theory where appropriate) and enable them to continue developing their knowledge and skills on their own. That’s education.

KH: What are your plans after completing your doctorate? 

DHP: If possible, I’d like to make some small contribution to expanding educational attainment among disadvantaged populations. Since my experience set includes online learning development and a project management credential, it would be great to use those along with my academic and research skills. 


Dani Houchin Petrie, LinkedIn Profile

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