#PandemicAndBeyond - The training now arriving…

01 October 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond, Training

In this week's blog, Associate Director Chris Cowton discusses the difference between education and training, and the importance of understanding #BusinessEthics

Over the years, much ink has been spilled on the difference between education and training. Most of us studiously avoid getting embroiled in such abstruse debates, but I guess we generally see education as something broader and more theoretical, whereas training is concerned with the acquisition of specific skills or instruction in particular behaviours. Education is associated with school and university and – whatever the debates about the form it takes –generally seen as a ‘good thing’. On the other hand, training comes to the fore at work, where it has to pay for itself – even if doing the numbers on that can be tricky.

So far, so good. It’s easy to tell the difference between learning history or calculus, on the one hand, and acquiring the ability to operate a lathe or write a job description, on the other. However, as we move beyond situations where a narrow range of options is matched to a limited range of circumstances – perhaps as we ascend the organisational hierarchy or give staff more scope for exercising their initiative – training increasingly takes on an educational air. The focus is less on instructing colleagues about the details of what they have to do and more on developing their capability to act as they should, in line with company principles and values. They will be expected to exercise their judgment. And for good judgment, you need real understanding, not just memorised knowledge.

I want to think about this distinction between knowledge and understanding and what it means for enabling staff to achieve high ethical standards.

Of course, there will be relevant knowledge that staff need to acquire. There will be rules and guidance to follow. Staff need to know them. Here, we’re largely in the realm of compliance, seeking to ensure that certain minimum standards are met. In terms of achieving high ethical standards, though, staff need to grasp the more general principles behind the rules and guidance, especially when they face unfamiliar situations where they can’t just reach for the rulebook. With proper understanding, they can discern the spirit behind the letter, the substance behind the form – and behave accordingly. They might want to run a sense check with colleagues, but with real understanding they are equipped to respond to novel challenges and issues.

But how do you develop such understanding?

In the context of training, when it comes to knowledge, the dominant mode is top-down, or trainer-to-trainee or… Well, however you want to describe it, it’s essentially one-way communication. This doesn’t mean trainees can’t ask questions etc, but their participation is essentially for clarification – and to keep them awake. Fundamentally, the goal is to transfer the trainer’s knowledge to the trainee. However, deeper understanding can’t simply be transplanted; it needs to be developed, to be nurtured. The seed can be planted, but it needs to grow in the person. This makes training more about a conversation, building on the knowledge participants have.

At the IBE, we find that one of the best ways of having this conversation is around scenarios. We use them extensively in our own training. For example, in our recently designed online courses, participants acquire knowledge by going through PowerPoint slides with commentary (with discussion boards for clarification etc); but then the climax of the course is a live session when they can interact with fellow participants and the trainers as we discuss a set of scenarios. We’ve also produced a good practice guide on using scenarios, which provides lots of useful advice if you’d like to try it yourself.

Scenarios don’t just belong in training, though. Why not use them in your regular get-togethers with colleagues? By working on a realistic dilemma, you can practise and hone your ethical skills before they’re needed for real. And when you do it together, it helps to develop a common understanding of “how we do things around here”. Getting culture right isn’t easy, especially in these pandemic-constrained times. Maybe starting off your next team meeting on Zoom (other apps are available) with an ethical dilemma would be a nice change?

And if you don’t have any scenarios to hand, don’t worry. As you may have noticed, we’re running a series of weekly ‘Pandemic and Beyond’ dilemmas. I’m sure you’ll find something to stimulate a good conversation there.


Professor Chris Cowton
Professor Chris Cowton

Associate Director (Research), IBE, c.cowton@ibe.org.uk

Following a long career of leadership, teaching and research in the higher education sector, Chris joined the IBE in 2019 with a remit to strengthen its widely respected applied research and thought leadership, and a specific role of further developing our engagement with the education sector. In pursuit of the IBE's mission to base its work on high quality, relevant research, he now also leads on our training and advisory services.

Chris Cowton is Emeritus Professor at the University of Huddersfield and Visiting Professor at Leeds University’s Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre. He was previously Professor of Accounting (1996-2016), Professor of Financial Ethics (2016-2019) and Dean of the Business School (2008-2016) at Huddersfield, having joined after ten years lecturing at the University of Oxford.

He is internationally recognised for his contributions to business ethics, especially his pioneering work on financial ethics.  In 2013 he was awarded the University of Huddersfield’s first DLitt (Doctor of Letters, a higher doctorate) in recognition of his contribution to the advancement of knowledge in business and financial ethics.

He is the author of more than 70 journal papers, has edited three books and has written many book chapters. He was Editor of the journal Business Ethics: A European Review for a decade (2004-2013).

He is also a visiting professor at University of the Basque Country, Bilbao (Spain), and has been a visiting professor at the University of Bergamo (Italy) and a member of the Ethics Standards Committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (2009-2018).

You can read Chris's extensive bibliography here

Discussion of ethics in public life, including business, often makes unhelpful sweeping generalisations that take us nowhere. ‘Politicians are only in it for themselves’, ‘businesses manipulate consumers’, etc. Such comments describe one end of a spectrum, perhaps, but they do a disservice to those who are trying to do so much better. The IBE plays a key role, in supporting high standards of business behaviour and I am delighted to use my research expertise to contribute to that mission.

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