This is a post that tries to illuminate the minds that are confused with the words Educator, Teacher, Tutor, Instructor, Trainer, Coach and Communicator, as I once was. The only way to make their meanings louder and clearer is by putting them together in a single post. If you are in a hurry to watch the entire sport and are willing to walk away with only the outcome without having to understand the research behind it, you may directly jump to the conclusion.
Through this post, I shall justify the significance and usage of each of the above terms in the context of education. We shall begin with a narrative of the evolution of Education, and then try to understand how and why these many seemingly synonymous words have come to exist in our everyday pedagogic lexicon. Moving further we will overview their semantics and Wiki references to learn how inept the rudimentary linguistics is to clarify the sharp differences there actually are. Finally, we shall conclude by contextualizing each word as per its current usage.
Evolution of Education and Pedagogic Lexicon:
It began with the gradual growth in informal education as a necessity for survival, such as, hunting, gathering, farming, fighting, building, harnessing, casting, forging, weaving, reading, writing, counting, accounting, etc. Then there was privileged formal education, where formal education as in certification or degree or recognition was imparted only to a few members of a few privileged classes who could afford the luxury of not having to arrange every day for their living. Initially every sovereign piece of land had its official military training units where fresh recruits were trained in combat skills as well as the experts were given places to practice and enhance their skills during the peace time. As knowledge began to show its power, formal civil education began to prosper. There came Academia, viz. schools, colleges and universities. With industrialization becoming an unofficial mandate, came specialized training centres for each industry that needed those for its staff and workers. Then we flourished almost as a global civilization where education had to evolve with different specializations and orientations for different classes with their respective purposes so that each class could work in harmony with the others, thereby contributing to the mass global productivity. Boosted cumulatively by global economic boost, Science, Engineering and Technology, with the Internet gradually becoming virtually omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, today, Education has become a billion dollar industry.
And with that, when it comes to making a choice regarding education, either as a provider or a seeker, we have now increasingly more flexible and individually customizable options to choose from. That justifies how and why we have educators, teachers, tutors, instructors, trainers, coaches and communicators working as different individuals working simultaneously or sometimes even one person working as each at a different time. That’s why it is important to understand the sharp yet subtle differences between them. The terms in the title of this post: Educator, Teacher, Tutor, Instructor, Trainer, Coach and Communicator are being used both on and off-line in ways that make it really confusing and difficult to pinpoint the supposed expectation from the person who claims to be one of these; even more confusing is when they use more than one. Thus, I think, having a proper clarity of understanding of these words would help you set your role and expectation straight.
Semantics and Wiki-references:
This section contains the respective dictionary (Oxford Learner’s) definitions and Wikipedia descriptions. Whether they make sense and where, is up to you. To me they don’t. At least when all these words are put together, semantics does not help in making sense of them. See for yourself.
- a person whose job is to teach or educate people
- a person who is an expert in the theories and methods of education
Both of these definitions indicate that ‘Educator’ is a term with a very broad spectrum of usages.
It does not have a page for ‘Educator’ but for ‘Education’ and it says,
Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of educators, but learners may also educate themselves. Education can take place in formal or informal settings and any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational. The methodology of teaching is called pedagogy.
This is quite extensive and mostly appropriate. What’s more worth noting is the etymology of Education, i.e. it originated from the Latin word ēducātiō which means “breeding or bringing up or rearing”. In fact, as we shall see, this will mean the most in clarifying everything else. The fact that ‘Education’ came from a word which literally means ‘parenting’ is what makes Education a very respectable sector, industry or otherwise. And thus is the role of an Educator.
a person whose job is teaching, especially in a school
This definition is almost the same as the first definition Oxford gives for ‘Educator’. Not very useful, is it?
A teacher (also called a school teacher or, in some contexts, an educator) is a person who helps others to acquire knowledge, competences or values.
When taken alone, this is a description of the word ‘teacher’ that makes all other words we are to discuss in this post seem unnecessary, nonetheless those words exist for the simple reason of specificity. From our real life experiences we know that a teacher does not always fulfil all that Wikipedia tells he/she does.
- a private teacher, especially one who teaches an individual student or a very small group
- a teacher whose job is to pay special attention to the studies or health, etc. of a student or a group of students
- a teacher, especially one who teaches adults or who has a special role in a school or college
- an assistant lecturer in a college
- a book of instruction in a particular subject, especially music
Although very much satisfying on its own, when seen along with the word ‘Coach’ or ‘Trainer’ it won’t be as clear.
A tutor is an instructor who gives private lessons. Shadow education is a name for private supplementary tutoring that is offered outside the mainstream education system.
Normally, a tutor will help a student who is struggling in a subject of some sort. Also, a tutor may be provided for a student who wants to learn at home.
In the United States, the term “tutor” is generally associated with one who gives professional instruction (sometimes within a school setting but often independently) in a given topic or field.
Wikipedia does a similar job as Oxford here too.
- a person whose job is to teach somebody a practical skill or sport
- a teacher below the rank of assistant professor at a college or university
Definition # 1 is okay but definition # 2 is ambiguous as there are already others terms for it. Moreover, when it comes to skills, ‘Coach’ or ‘Trainer’ add to the ambiguity.
A teacher, or professor, of a specialised subject that involves skill
a person who teaches people or animals to perform a particular job or skill well, or to do a particular sport
Try comparing with the entries from ‘Coach’ or ‘Tutor’.
The actual Wiki page that falls in this context redirects to ‘Facilitator’ about which it says pretty much accurately,
“A facilitator is someone who engages in the activity of facilitation. They help a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives; in doing so, the facilitator remains neutral meaning he/she does not take a particular position in the discussion.
Instead of accepting Wiki here as appropriate in describing ‘Trainer’ as a facilitator, we should wait till we find a conclusion, as you shall see there is something more subtle about a ‘Trainer’ than described by the dictionaries or encyclopediae.
- a person who trains a person or team in sport
- a person who gives private lessons to somebody, often to prepare them for an exam
Can we really find a common ground to define the word rather than splitting it in different classes? After all there is a reason why in study or in sports, it’s called the same!
In the context of sports it says,
a coach is a person involved in the direction, instruction and training of the operations of a sports team or of individual sportspeople.
And in the context of other learning activities such as in coaching, it says,
a person called a coach supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.
Once again the same thing is done by Wiki. Let’s wait for the conclusion and see if we can define ‘Coach’ unambiguously for the entirety of Learning.
a person who communicates something to others
This is very vague as a definition, utterly useless.
There is no such page for ‘Communicator’ but the closest one relevant to our discussion here is about Science Communication where it says,
Science communication generally refers to public communication presenting science-related topics to non-experts.
From there we can deduce that a person is called a Communicator of a specialized and technical field when their role is to reach out to the non-experts and help them understand something interesting and noteworthy by breaking things down to simple layperson lexicon.
I find this as utmost satisfying as a definition for ‘Communicator’, if taken in the light of informal education or simply spreading awareness. Maybe that’s what it is.
In the next and concluding section I am going to define each of these seven words better than the respective Oxford and Wikipedia pages.
The entire point of my doing this small research on these words was to reach a conclusion that provides solid definitions which could underline the subtleties beneath these words and make the readers and myself confident to use them unmistakably. Here they are:
Educator: a person who facilitates education
It can be a founder of an institution of education or learning, a teacher, a tutor, an instructor, a trainer, a coach or even a communicator.
Teacher: a person who works in an official institution of formal education being responsible for the overall learning progress of the students undertaken by him/her.
It would include those teachers in preschools, schools, colleges and universities, etc.
Tutor: a person who is hired to aid formal education by providing his/her expertise on a subject to an individual or to a small group.
This is why one pays tuition fees to an Institution to finance a part of the whole of the expense of formal education. By paying the tuition fee, you earn the right to demand as many tutors as you need to successfully complete a course, lest the professors are too occupied.
Instructor: a person who provides real time instructions to the students during a learning activity which is a part of the program.
An instructor cannot work without a teacher. Either the instructor has acted as a teacher to teach the basic prerequisites of that activity or there has to be a separate teacher to do that, e.g. in the case of a flight instructor.
Trainer: a person who aids someone in acquiring new physical skills by participating in the physical activities and demonstrating the ways to properly accomplish the desired goals.
A gym trainer, a sports trainer, a dance trainer, etc. are a few examples.
Coach (mentor): a person who provides consistent help to and direct participation with the aspirants with a specific aspiration by using as much of the available resources as possible, including the hidden skills and strengths of the aspirants.
The examples are plenty, such as, spiritual coach, life coach, examination coach, sports coach, etc.
Communicator: a person who communicates with the nonexperts of a technical subject to help them understand a relevant part of the subject.
This is a very informal form of education, such as learning as a hobby or some delegation level briefing or simply promoting a subject among the public to create awareness and interest. Scientists like Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene as well as experts such as Derek Muller (of the YouTube channel Veritasium), Michael Stevens (of the YouTube channel Vsauce), Dianna Cowern (of the YouTube channel Physics Girl), Hashem Al-Ghaili (of the Facebook page and YouTube channel of the same name) are a few among many examples of exceptionally well communicators of science.