How do you define education?
Seriously, how do you define education? How would you define information? Is there a difference in education and information or are those words synonymous?
Think about the annual conferences that you attend. Do they provide education, information, both, or neither?
Education Or Information?
In the early 1990’s I was working for Keep Texas Beautiful (KTB), part of the Keep America Beautiful affiliate network. I managed KTB’s education, workshops and youth/children’s events in addition to helping plan the annual conference and meetings. Much of my programming was funded from state and national grants that had some narrow restrictions on how the money could be spent.
During my second year at KTB, we decided to hold a children’s and youth conference in conjunction with the annual conference. It was one of Texas’ first statewide kid’s environmental conferences. In order to secure sponsorship and grant funding, I was faced with answering the above question: Was the kid’s conference providing education or information?
As a professional educator, I was puzzled by the question. Of course we were providing education. Or so I thought.
In designing the children’s and youth conference, I secured several top Texas educators to help plan, manage and facilitate the three day event with me. The first question I asked each educator was the same one I was being asked: Were we providing education or information at this environmental kid’s conference?
We each struggled with the question and came to some amazing enlightenment. Much of our traditional annual conference programming was actually the sharing of information and not education. It was training at its best, something done by a presenter “to” an attendee. Not something done “with” participants guided by a facilitator.
Wikipedia defines information as “…an ordered sequence of symbols. As a concept, however, information has many meanings. The concept of information is closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation.”
Wow, that definition says a lot. Information is a concept closely related to constrained communication and sharing data in controlled environments. Providing information is not a process of learning and applying skills.
The U.S. EPA, one of our possible youth conference grant funders, defines information as providing facts, figures and opinions. Interestingly enough, the U.S. EPA would not fund grants providing information programming or services. They would only fund education endeavors.
So what is education?
Wikipedia defines education as “… any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. Education is a concept, referring to the process in which students can learn something.”
Did you catch that last sentence? Education is a concept referring to the process of learning something.
Education comes from the Latin word educare meaning “bring up” and related to educere meaning to “bring out or bring forth what is within” and ducere meaning “lead.” Literally, education is about leading others to bring out the potential from within.
Does your annual conference do that? Leading its participants to bring out their potential from within. When your conference marketing materials lists its education sessions, are they really information sessions or education sessions?
Education Is A Process Not A Product
Education is not a product of an institution or the byproduct of sitting passively in a conference session listening to a presenter. Education is the process of learning something! It requires active engagement by the learner, more than just listening to a lecture.
Hypothetically speaking, if education is just listening to a speaker present information, then why aren’t more conference attendees leaving sessions with minds full of new facts, figures and opinions. Why don’t more registrants leave a conference filled with new information having sat passively, listening to presenters for six- to eight-hours a day for three days or more? If just listening to lectures equated to the full transfer of knowledge and skills being shared, we would have an extremely intelligent society. Everyone would graduate from high school and college. All faith-based sermons would instantly produce throngs of spiritual people.
But that doesn’t happen. Why? Because education involves active participation by the learner.
The U.S EPA defines education as:
Teaching skills in
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
- Decision making
- Evaluation and analysis.
Education involves helping others identify the facts, make their own judgments and opinions, and then learn how to apply the facts in various situations. Education is about understanding the consequences of our actions before we make choices.
The first KTB Kid’s Environmental Conference was a success. We had more than 300 young people attend our three day event. And we provided a mix of information and education for our attendees. We took the Keep America Beautiful Five Step Attitude and Behavior Change System and applied it to our conference:
- Get the facts.
- Involve the people. (Let them make judgments, form opinions and evaluate choices based on the facts. Let them discuss the facts.)
- Plan systematically (collaborate, problem solve)
- Focus on results.
- Provide positive reinforcements.
How do these definitions of education and information affect your planning of conferences or meetings? Which do you prefer, listening to information or being engaged in learning? What do you think is the right ratio of presenting information to being engaged in education at conferences and events?