On Training and Education

How we spoil our youth by putting them through a school system that is based on training.

What do you think about when you read the word education? Is it university or school? Is it private or in teams? Is it structured or explorative?
You see, there are distinctions to be made. Here I want to use the terminology James Carse introduces in his book Finite and Infinite Games.

The following is a brief, but abstract discussion of the terms and how we should be talking about them. Quotes are left undiscussed and open on purpose, for they contain a depth that everyone has to discover themselves.

Carse, along the unique style of the book, introduces education and training as two separate things. In fact, as sort of opposites to each other. What then are the two? 

„Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition.“

James Carse – Finite and Infinite Games

As with most dissertations in the book, this formulation doesn’t give a clear understanding, because the matter it covers is so wide and deep. It does however give a feeling and a few key points on which we can elaborate. 


My understanding of training, in this regard, is the acquisition of structured knowledge for the purpose of applying it. It is, although hard to admit, what we do in schools and universities. We learn to succeed in the exams, primarily. The higher the education level gets the more intrinsic motivation is involved, but the driving factor often remains the applicablility for exams or work, for that matter. Although we choose to go to school X to study field Y, the social norms pressure us into a mode of practical completion where we consider our studies as just another checkbox to mark on our way somewhere. (Somewhere unknown for most)

Surely, there are still students that study for the sake of exploring a new field of knowledge for the knowledge’s sake, but the system works against them, with stupefying exams based on memorisation and repetition. We must admit that what we are seeking through our advanced education is often nothing more than the title we are awarded with upon completion: the degree. 

A degree from a renown university, in usability terms, is your certificate of having a cognitive ability akin to that of previous graduates. It is a proven comparison to a pool of others, it makes you one occurrence in the mass of standards, so your capability can be judged on a scale from 1 to 4. 

You have then, as Carse said, a final self-definition of yourself, a title that you acquired by playing the finite game of „education“, which should rather be called training. To some extent, you become bachelor, master or PhD. Of course, few people really define themselves solely through the formal titles they accumulated, but the effect is there and it is significant.

Training thus is a goal oriented game we play in order to win something.


Education on the other hand is more wholesome, less graspable and less measurable. It is the craft of the infinite player, in Carse’s terms. 

„To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.“

„Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future.“

James Carse – Finite and Infinite Games

Education is to develop a mind capable of living a worthy life of self-awareness, independence and rationality. It contains the acquisition of knowledge, but with an awareness of its limitations. It is, among others, philosophy, spirituality and logic, but it also ever more. 

We are trained to be an engineer, a financial analyst or a manager. 
We are educated to be human.

We are trained to be useful,
we are educated to be unique. 

Education, for me, is to be aware of the human condition. To be aware of the nothingness of ones being, but also to be capable of dealing in this world. Education can only be done intrinsically, for it is the active confrontation with our selves.

„Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. “

James Carse – Finite and Infinite Games

Go ahead…

… and keep your eyes open to see what things are really about. Don’t label organisations as noble, because they educate people. Analyse, whether it is actual education or just training in disguise.

Seek to educate yourself as a human. Not as an engineer, scientist or accountant, but as a creative and spontaneous human being.

Learn to learn, but never mistake knowledge for knowing. Wisdom comes from accepting the limitations of knowledge and being at peace with them.

With multiple disruptive innovations about to take off we are entering a world, where the finite play of training is bound to fail, because of the limited capacity for structured thought of our brain. We can’t compete with the machines in any discipline of training, why try?

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