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Sounding Off: What's the difference between education and training?

Justin Paterson
By Justin Paterson

What's the difference between education and training?

'Education in music technology' is a well‑worn discussion topic in SOS, its forums and beyond. Is it worth having, or not? There are those who say, "It's rubbish — get a job serving tea in a proper studio instead! That way you see how it is done, and when the engineer is sick one day...” Then there are those who endorse their formal schooling, and claim that it propelled them to wherever they currently are.

Let us consider what an 'education in music technology' is. There are, by definition, two aspects to this phrase. Firstly and obviously, we are talking about music technology. Readers know what this is. I have seen relatively little debate from the SOS Forumites about the second: the merits of education. Education is a wholly different thing, not subservient to subject‑specific expertise, but rather concerned with building the mind, and is a much more transferable life‑commodity.

As a metaphor, the study of history yields few vocational careers, yet few question its relevance. Those who study it learn not just dates and doctrines, but an analytical approach, a power of reasoning and a robust confidence in their research‑informed convictions. Those who evolve from this need not find jobs in museums; graduates' lives are enriched, and a diverse array of employers can understand that they are educated, and therefore able to adapt to whatever roles suit a particular business. This means that they enter the so‑called 'graduate professions', with the associated opportunities for career progression. They are also privileged, and this should not be underestimated, to hold on to a lifelong love and understanding of their discipline. They might continue to develop it, indulge it in their spare time and revel in discussions with like‑minded friends. Obviously, on top of this, we do still have a proportion of professional historians who actually fulfil their vocational progression.

In theory, there is no difference with music technology, as long as the study of it is based on education, and not just on training. Here lies a common misapprehension. Some might think that this mystical 'education in music technology' is about knowing when to choose mic 'X' for situation 'Y', and so on. Obviously this is good, but now compare this to understanding that choice in the chronology of recording practice, to knowing the effects that need to be realised by whatever tools are available, the true critical evaluation of a procedure, its context and concept... Add to this a perspective of tomorrow's music industry and the technology of its mechanisms. Suddenly we have a mind that can be applied to a less vocational graduate profession, if that becomes necessary. We know that music tech graduates cannot all work in our revered industry, but why should they not pursue the subject area they love and develop their brains and transferable skills in doing so?

The previous paragraph might appear to denigrate training courses. Not so. Training courses that make their students genuinely proficient can only enhance employment chances, certainly way above those who do not have any such experience. I wish these students every success, although the cynic in me knows that only the best, luckiest and most determined will find employment in the field.

So, what of the educated John Smith, BA? He may have a similar level of expertise, or indeed may not. He does, however, have the BA thing after his name, and this opens doors far beyond mere technical understanding. John, if determined, will be able to fight for those few vocational opportunities that are there, but will also be able to fall back on the greater social body of graduate employment, should time run out whilst pursuing his vocation. The same is not necessarily true for someone who has received training rather an education: whatever his or her expertise, he just might not have the transferable credentials for another employment arena.

The only thing that enables me to do my current academic job is my (non music-tech) education, not my training. I am in the fortunate position of working in the domain I love, albeit with a slant I did not wholly expect when I started as a pro — but I work, and I see many peers more expert than me struggling in today's merciless and changing industry.

About The Author

Justin Paterson is programme leader of the MA Audio Technology, London College of Music at the University of West London (formerly TVU). He produces music, designs sonic manipulators and is studying for a doctorate in music production.

Published October 2010