Learning Is Different Than Education

Wendell-BerryLearning Is Different Than Education

by Terry Heick

Ed note: This post has been updated from an early 2013 post.

“…all our problems tend to gather under two questions about knowledge: Having the ability and desire to know, how and what should we learn? And, having learned, how and for what should we use what we know?”

Wendell Berry, likely America’s greatest living writer and certainly its most compelling essayist, succinctly captures the challenge of education in this excerpt on an essay from a (mostly) unrelated topic from “People, Land, and Community.”

But in the quote, Berry (whose ideas we’ve used to reflect on learning before, including this Inside-Out School Learning Model) has given us the ingredients for any authentic system of learning.

The challenge of the ability and the desire to know is well enough established. While education as a system has (for the most part) moved long past concepts of “intelligence” and ability on the surface, academic progress and proficiency are literal linchpins for all education reform, at least in the United States. Establish a curriculum, agree how to measure the learning progress of that curriculum, and then promise to stakeholders that all students will meet that level and “not be left behind.”

The How and What of learning—which immediately bring to mind instructional strategies and curriculum matters—are really much more complicated. This complexity—of how to parse the world and “cause literacy”—and literacy of what­­—has been homogenized in the United States with the adoption of Common Core academic standards, so that all students will study the same material, in much the same ways and with the same remediation patterns as suggested by the same assessment forms.

The last bit of his thought is a bit more troubling. “Having learned, how and for what should we use what we know?”

To educators, this likely sounds like “career readiness,” but just as learning is much different than education, the “work” a person does in interacting with the world is much different than a “career.”


The use of project-based learning and place-based education to help students address authentic personal and social problems is becoming more common—or at least more visible.

But helping students understand how to meaningfully interact with the communities and networks and issues and tools that are most important to them often means we have to bring them to communities and networks and issues and tools both familiar and unfamiliar, and to re-contextualize issues they think they understand.

This kind of intellectual agitation cannot possibly be purely academic, as academics do not exist outside of classrooms.

A push for “career readiness” makes sense in light of decaying workforce skills in a world that increasingly demands more. But a school can no more teach a child to have a conscience than they can train their minds for the work of their life.

This suggests the need for deep and persistent and meaningful and equitable interaction between schools and the communities  they serve. For the communities to have the capacity to truly support 21st century learning, they need to be a part of the process from the beginning, not detached receivers of lukewarm project-based learning artifacts.

Schools can no longer martyr on promising miracles while spending billions and working teachers into the ground.

Learning is different than education. One can be self-directed but supported; the other is led and caused. One is driven by curiosity and the joy of discovery; the other is metered and measured, and a matter of endless policy and mechanization.

Education and all of its bits and pieces–with some modesty and connectivity–can become the ultimate learning tool in any community. Teachers can be the champions of the gift of learning and the power of well-wrought education, but only if they can find mirrors of themselves in communities–symmetrical in both form and function.

21st century learning must be, if nothing else, interdependent and communal, and sensitive to these distinctions.


  • I have found your blog really amazing. You put really very helpful educational information & stuff. I read this post considerably and I emphasized that Education in the largest sense is any act.Uk Assignment Writers also write about this because both learning and education has a great influence on the mind and character of an individual. However, learning is the basic instinct possessed by all individuals, and, on the other hand, education is acquired by individuals.

  • Besides eating, breathing, drinking and excreting,learning is everything the young child does, the older child seeks, and the wiser adult pursues; no matter how acquired, it makes us authentically human.

    Education is too often thought of as having had texts and facts tattooed on our brain cells and pounded in by repetition. Children are wiser than that; we reached out and grasped as much as we could take, at times getting more than we could handle, and still never gave up.

    Tests, grades, diplomas and transcripts notwithstanding, only the very dullest of us ever stop learning. Experience adds to our ability to learn, expands our horizons, and gives us more on which to build the education life alone confers.

    There is a reason I love books. They don’t have to be related to anything I need to do to help me learn. Today I may read – I am reading –how to design a sundial, and later relate that to weather and rainfall. astronomy and horology. E. D. Hirsch famously wrote about cultural literacy, and while that’s taken to mean one must memorize facts from many fields of knowledge, I would challenge those who insist on memory being the basis of educatio.; Understanding alone educates us. Though memory may fail us, understanding continues to serve.

    Now, when I can no longer bring to mind synonyms that once came readily to mind; I use a thesaurus . So be it. I have the tools Hirsch said we all needed not because I memorized them, but because I learned them, reveled in them, and took joy in linking them one with another.

    I’d call that education.

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