There are a variety of post-high school options available for graduates, and two of them are a academic schools versus vocational schools. The basic difference between these two is theory versus practice. An academic school generally teaches theoretical knowledge and broad-based research skills, while a vocational school teaches hands-on, applied skills such as carpentry, auto mechanics and hairdressing.
Vocational Teaching Style
Vocational education tends to have some theoretical training but mostly hands-on training. If, for example, you are studying to be a carpenter, you would spend some time being told about how to perform a task but would spend far more time actually carrying out the task. Rather than sitting in a classroom, you would be actually building something--the definition of "learning by doing."
Academic Teaching Style
Academic education, on the other hand, focuses on reading material, being told information, and discussing material in groups. There also tends to be a strong focus on writing, although some academic disciplines focus more on this than others. Either way, though, academic schools focus more on the understanding of concepts in a theoretical setting rather than applying them in a practical setting.
Vocation Education Results
Vocational school graduates tend to go into the career they trained for--the carpentry student above would find a job as a carpenter. They are valuable employees for these industries because a vocational education ensures that they have the exact knowledge they need to succeed. Not only does a carpentry graduate understand the principles behind carpentry, but he can also show that he has successfully applied them in a variety of ways.
Academic Education Results
Graduates from academic schools tend to have broader, less-applied skills. The level to which they have these skills varies depending on what they studied--a liberal arts graduate will have strong research and writing skills but not as many applied skills as a law, medical or hard science science graduate. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, particularly if someone does not know precisely what they want to do with their life. While an academic school graduate does not have as many clear options as a vocational school graduate, he is also better-equipped for broader focused, more theoretical jobs like working as an analyst, journalist or a variety of other jobs that require critical thinking over applied skill.