Trainer or Educator: What is the difference?

Recently I had a short-term job as a trainer for a nationally produced and prescribed program focused on a specific and, necessarily, standardized series of events. My role in the past has been as an educator. So, appointment to this new role led me to think 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.

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 skillful, 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.

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 program, 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.

Thus, my experience 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.

I now open this topic up for discussion. I would love to hear your views, understandings and beliefs. What do other theorists say about these matters? What do you say?

~ Debbie Bright,

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3 thoughts on “Trainer or Educator: What is the difference?

  1. Lucy J says:

    Thanks for your perspective, Debbie. I appreciate your articulation of the difference between a trainer and an educator. As an informal theorist, although an experientially learned one with a tad of Adult Education cred, I tend to think that “a true educator” is a person who is interested in “the long haul”, life-long learning, and facilitates, to the best of their ability, a “transformational” learning experience and outcomes. They also enjoy the learning that they experience in the process of teaching! A trainer, perhaps, has a more short-term, skills-based focus and less of an opportunity to “learn” in the same way that an educator might. Both are valid in various contexts, and perhaps those attributes overlap. However, the educator seems to elicit a more “holistic” definition/condition than that of the trainer… more wisdom than knowledge? In Star Wars terms, educators are more Yoda than Vader…

  2. Johanna says:

    I tend to use the term “facilitator” when there is learner-centered learning involved, and the terms “trainer / educator / teacher” when the learner is looking towards the ‘expert’ to learn from. Sometimes I wear both hats in the classroom, but my personal teaching philosophy is to be a “facilitator”, allowing learners to experience & explore. I simply set up the circumstances so they can do just that.

    Each person has their own take on this. Even Lucy used the word “facilitate”. The bottom line is, who is controlling what, who is taking ownership of what.

    • Lucy J says:

      Yep, Jo, exactly! “facilitate” is a term that puts a lot into perspective in terms of “who is controlling what, who is taking ownership of what” etc. I respect educators who unpretentiously wear their “humility hat” when creating safe, enjoyable, informative learning environments. Amongst other things, it takes time, experimentation, risk, dedication, and both peer and self evaluation to achieve this. I have seen less “educated” teachers display that kind of approach more successfully than highly and formally qualified ones… and vice versa! It really depends on the individual and their aspirations as far as the teaching/training/learning continuum goes. Vulnerability is a state of being not popularly accepted or recommended in current times when self-empowerment, self-actualisation and self-development are media-hyped as more interesting and attractive and learn-worthy. Both educators and trainers have the privilege to model teaching styles and behaviours that are positively formational for those who benefit from their facilitations. However, I personally prefer that they resist unconscious attitudes of narcissism and domination which erode the cooperative fabric of any social group, commercial framework, work environment (or Christian ministry endeavour) in which the learning outcomes are employed

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