The Differences between Instruction, Training, and Tutoring

It may be mincing words to some, but teaching is different depending on the objective. On the other side of the table, the learner, too, faces a different paradigm given whether he or she is present to learn a general subject, a subject that they must know for a vocation, or to understand concepts missed the first time around. In turn, these three learning objectives fall under the terms instruction, training, and tutoring, respectively. Let me expand on this.

Behaviorists have long observed how children serendipitously learn of the world through interaction, mostly in the form of play. As youth develop, they fare better - that is, more efficiently - by learning in the social environment setting of a classroom. There, a structure pinpoints the source of learning in the form of the instructor. Rules are set about discipline and timing, since primary, elementary and secondary students tend to lack the self-direction of adults, and general subjects flow from the source to the learner in a provided sequence. If assembled well by an expert instructor, this sequence generally befits learning because the subject matter is presented appropriately to age level during times of day when the learner is most receptive, and so on. Of course, the danger of indoctrination is ever present in general instruction. To consider students as empty vessels to be filled with information eventually runs against the student's innate inquisitive nature to question the assumptions of authority. As students become adult learners, the general subject strategy of instruction begins to lose traction.

Instead, adult learners tend to seek training over instruction. That is, training is about filling a gap in knowledge necessary to remain employable, to be more productive at tasks, or to fill a specific desire of the learner. Training recognizes that adults are self-directed, goal-oriented, and generally lose patience or become bored with irrelevant information. As such, a good trainer prepares a specific topic for emphatic delivery at just the right time when the learner demands it. Training offered in a timely manner draws the adult learner by dint of self-interest. Less coercion is necessary as adult learners demonstrate internal motivation for acquiring subject knowledge. In fact, little needs to be stated about discipline or classroom management for adult learners who show up for training. If anything, the trainer needs to prepare for an all-out assault by adult learners who will test apparent contradictions, alternative scenarios and such in order to grasp the full application of learning. In this vein, training takes on an immersive feel.

Tutoring, finally, is a typically one-on-one affair between the tutor and the learner. Like the adult learner training situtation, tutoring sessions are sought by the learner who acknowledges an inherent deficiency in understanding a topic. Usually, this comes after a formal class instruction or training. The learner missed something or does not fully grasp the import of the previous lessons. The learner can tell because assignments are incomprehensible, or progress is stymied by missing information. Worse, when attempting to implement knowledge, the learner meets unexpected barriers. The need for tutoring comes when the learner searches for, but cannot locate, answers in easily obtained references. Rather than waste precious time or other resources trying to find answers on his or her own, the learner turns to an expert. For a small fee and a scheduled session, the learner relies on this tutor to fill in the gaps. Now, this means that the tutor certainly must display expertise in the subject matter. Like the expert instructor or trainer, the tutor must prepare for the session by anticipating what the learner might ask, what the application is, and any other considerations. In this sense, tutoring may be much more intense with higher expectations than general instruction or training sessions. The stakes are certainly elevated for the learner, if the learner must meet some objective such as passing a certification exam, or functioning on a project.

I hope this explains some of the differences one may expect as a learner when encountering several forms of instruction. The tutored student should be aware that the amount of preparation a tutor must bear is no less than that borne by a professor in any college-level course. Communication by the student is key. He or she must clarify the learning goals as much as possible so that the tutor conducts the session in a manner to achieve the goal. Tell your tutor what you need; in other words beware believing that the instructor is a mind-reader. Doing so will mean time and funds well spent.


David C.

College Readiness

5+ hours
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