Achievement VS Accomplishment: What’s the Difference?


The terms achievement and accomplishment are both used when relating a task, objective or action to successful intentions or perceived mental direction. Both are used interchangeably as a positive indicator of progression, but to what extent are these terms interchangeable in their meaning?

Marc Prensky has recently written a piece on ‘Achievement VS Accomplishment: An important distinction in education’ addressing the weight this difference holds from an educational standpoint.


A person doing something that benefits only (or principally) him or her (=an achievement).

Prensky believes achievement is a progressive term of success on an individual level; actions such as buying a house, winning a race and so on are deemed achievement as the only party achieving is the individual.

He finds that there is a more direct connection to achievement than accomplishment within education as a large part of schooling is built around individual results and means in which to improve on set results.


A person doing something (or being a part of something) that benefits others and the world outside of that person (=an accomplishment).”

Accomplishment is found in the successes that create positive end results for more than one person. It aligns itself as a more selfless measure of success in working towards a goal greater than an individual. Things such as curing disease, winning a team sport and participating in community activities all go under the frame of accomplishment as end results are more communal.

Students are believed to have less accomplishment in their schooling lives as the drive to improve on the individual level overcomes the communal side of working towards a goal. The schooling system is set to prepare students as best as possible for the real world, but the focus on wanting them to achieve gives them little worldly contribution during their time in school.

The difference

The distinction lies within the parties involved within a task or goals success. Are you seeking individual achievement or collective accomplishment?

Now don’t be confused, achievement isn’t a bad thing. Schooling is a system that is set to give students preparation for the real world, creating the ability for educational progression around achievement to pursue later goals set for accomplishment (e.g. a student seeking to improve their grades so they can study to become a doctor). The actions your students do now on an achievement basis can translate into a role of accomplishment later, but that isn’t to say accomplishment shouldn’t be encouraged in the education system.

In the real world when your students go out to look for jobs and a potential employer is reviewing their resume, experience is a key point in appealing to the employer.

This is because employers want to see an individual’s ability to translate achievements into accomplishment, to take what has been learnt and developed and turn it into something that can be valuable to them (i.e. what can you do for us?).

What can we do?

The key is to create an educational environment that balances goals centred on achievement and accomplishment.

Education has a large emphasis on achievement as it is. It is more how accomplishment can be integrated into that. Encouraging students to look at how they can action what they learn is a good building block to balance achievement and accomplishment.

For instance, a student can work to get high results on a maths test and then be encouraged to investigate a occupation that uses the maths they have just studied in a positive manner to the world (i.e. doctor, teacher and so on). This adds weight to what students are learning and shows them a real life example of people turning achievement into accomplishment.


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