Describing the difference between tactical and technical is easy using a sporting analogy. As a kid, I learnt judo. I suppose that I was technically rather good - I rapidly progressed to the capped level of brown belt (under 11's) and I still remember having to perform 16 throws and five hold-downs to achieve this. But put me on the dojo for a competition and I didn't win a single fight. Why? Because I hadn't been taught tactically about how to deal with different situations and different opponents. I had no ability to translate my technique into fight winning tactics.
The relevance for tertiary education? How often do we ask students to regurgitate information in the same way that I rote learned my 16 throws? Will that arm them with the skills to perform in the workplace? In my analogy example - not necessarily. That's not to say that there is no place for technical learning. I certainly needed to learn the variety of throws, but what I missed was a deep understanding of how they could be applied. This would have made me more adaptable to any situation that was presented.
As the penny dropped on this particular example for me, it reminded me just how important it is to teach using problem based learning (tactical) approaches. In my classes, I tend to offer the technical learning as 'flipped' tasks, while my in-class activities are designed to foster more tactical learning (see 'My recipe to flip, not flop' and 'How to make sure your class isn't a flipping hell'). By presenting students with a range of different scenarios, I hope that I am helping to develop their skills and confidence in tactical problem solving. Hopefully they will be ready to face the reality of the workplace - or the 'fight'.