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Learning vs Education vs Studies

by blackstarr (Friar)
on Feb 28, 2006 at 18:48 UTC ( #533456=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Yesterday I was lurking on the chatterbox, watching the byplay of comments, and saw reference to what an ability to learn meant. (The subject was perl, the individuals remain nameless :-) )

Because of that & a few other things that have been going on in my life, I was prompted to thinking about this:
What is Learning, as opposed to Education, as opposed to Studying? And what are their merits?

Warning! Very long, disjointed ramble follows.

We often hear (um, read) rants for/against tertiary education as opposed to learning “on the job”.
We hear references to individuals who either won’t learn, or are unable to learn, from the advice that is given them.
We hear things about what it “takes” to learn to program (or program in perl).

When I read these, I almost invariably find myself squirming, because I’m never on the RIGHT side of the argument … therefore I’m never going to be a programmer. Unfortunately for me, my job title is “Software Developer”, it’s what I get paid for (not in perl, unfortunately)… so I BETTER be good at it, and most of my colleagues seem to think I earn my salary :-).

Very often I think we categorise people (and their potential to be good as a programmer) far too easily. I am one of those neither-here, neither-there people … everyone I know views me as a geek, but technical things do not come easily to me. I have a great facility in arithmetic, and am only a mediocre mathematician. I can understand an abstract concept almost instinctively, yet struggle to implement it in practical applications.

I have found, in programming in general, and specifically in learning perl, that I cannot just read the docs and then write usable code directly afterwards, usually I have to see 5 to 10 different examples of that particular technique being implemented before I have an AHA moment, and from then on it’s a breeze.

In my spare time, I tutor Matric (South African school leaving level, read 12th grade or whatever your national equivalent …) Mathematics, with the goal being to get students who are failing to pass with a respectable grade. I find that the reasons students aren’t coping with Algebra (or Calculus, or Geometry, etc) is usually because they never mastered the basics a few years back, and have been barely holding on since then. Then the solution is never to teach them the concepts they need to pass in the exams, but to take a step back and take as much time as is necessary until the student has internalised the missing foundation concepts (or techniques). For this reason I absolutely refuse to take on a student after April, and then only if the student (not the parent/s!) commits to doing whatever it takes.

Very often, I think, we have the same problem in the programming world. People seem to equate learning a programming language, to learning to programme, when in reality they are two totally different things (interrelated, yes, but not the same). Concepts such as arrays, modularity, or flow control are basic, and independent of language. Specifics such as syntax and structure, etc are language dependent.
A lot of the debate around the language vs language issues are actually people’s misunderstandings/ignorance of basic programming techniques showing up (no, I can’t prove that, it’s subjective)

If people learnt (mastered) programming techniques from the basics up, then specific languages would be a lot easier.

To move to the more general. Different people learn in different ways.
Some see patterns (or abstractions) as obvious at a glance, and use them to drill down to and understand the specifics.
Some can only understand patterns after understanding the elements that make them up and how they fit together.
Some learn by doing, others by teaching, and still others by diving into some horrible monstrosity of legacy code and “fixing” it.

We each have our own ideas as to what it means to master a subject, some lean to the academic & some lean to the practical. (And some just want solutions handed to them … a symptom of our sick society). Personally I don’t think one way is “better” than another.

I am one of the unfortunates who do not have an “Education” (university degree), and the 2 years of university education I do have are in a totally non-technical field (Theology).
Did my formal “Education” do anything for me? It taught me to think for myself, and for that I will never regret it. (And yes, I’m still a Bible-believing Christian)

I have found myself repeatedly “Studying” certain types of things in my journey in my IT career, things like Novell Networks (got certified and then promptly never went near ANY network again!), different technologies (because my boss of the moment wanted me to), and different programming languages (to get the current job done).
Studying has gained me some very tangible short term benefits, a better salary, a (relatively) stable position in an unstable industry, the ability to understand the techo-speak of various different segments of our rather diverse industry.

However, I find that the actual “Learning” has been done on a very different level indeed.

I am in a highly technical position, in a highly technical environment, yet the skill that benefits me the most is the ability to decode what users (i.e. my boss, my colleagues, our clients, etc) really Want, as opposed to what they say they want. This I never studied anywhere, yet learnt everywhere (even from my kids).

Learning that no matter how proficient I am in a particular technical skill/technology today, the market will come along and upset all my carefully laid long term plans and I’ll just have to skill myself up in something else (currently Oracle!)

Learning that I will never be more than a newbie in the great game of Life and that if I want to benefit from it, I have to reach out my hand to whoever is willing to help me understand better how I can use the limited gifts I have to maximise both my use to society and my ability to realise my personal goals.

Learning that reaching the pinnacle of mastery in something like perl is not the point, the point is to do as well as I can NOW, and do better tomorrow.

So, If I HAD to pick, I’d take my Learning and leave my Education and my Studies behind, BUT, I don’t have to, so I’ll remain always grateful that I have all three to call my own.

So Long

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Learning vs Education vs Studies
by zentara (Archbishop) on Mar 01, 2006 at 12:38 UTC
    What is Learning, as opposed to Education, as opposed to Studying? And what are their merits?

    I've gone through the "education mill" and the big problem I see is they push people too fast throught the system. There is a big difference between memorizing ways to solve problems, and gaining a conceptual understanding of the problem. Usually once a student sees the concepts underlying a problem, the answer becomes almost obvious. There is a quote by someone ...If you know how(and/or why) to ask the question, you already are on the path to the answer.

    But concepts take a long time to settle in, and usually in early school you just want to force the vocabulary of the problem, into the student's minds. Therefore we have memorization as an early teaching technique.

    Do you really want to teach the concept of number systems to pre-college level students? No, you just want them to learn the rules of math and algebra, so they can handle the equations shown to them in other classess.

    I still can quote from memory the solution to the quadratric equation..... x equals -b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4ac all over 2a.

    If they understood the concept, they probably would be able to derive the equation themselves.....but that would take too they push the kids thru school as fast as possible. (In Perl analogy, howlong did it take you to realize what a hash was, and why should you use it? For the longest time, I said to myself...arrays can do it all)

    Another good example which I see, is the concept of measuring space and areas. If you could take the time to impress on someone, what the concept of space is, that is it is a 3 dimensional quantity, it almost becomes obvious to them that the volume is $x*$y*$z, and they never forget. But if you don't pass on the concept of dimensional views, they need to memorize and you can stump them easily by giving them an area($x*$y) in ft^2 and a ceiling height, and asking for the room volume.

    Now of course, there are real world problems to teaching concepts to people under that age, the only concept that is important, is the color of Mary-Sue's underpants. :-)

    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. flash japh
Re: Learning vs Education vs Studies
by samizdat (Vicar) on Mar 01, 2006 at 17:07 UTC
    I would take it a little further back. Learning how to learn is the critical accomplishment. Human beings are not hardwired for this ability, and each of us learns how to aquire and integrate new relationships and associations in our own way.

    It is tragic, but we must grasp that the true 'customers' of public education systems are not the children themselves, but the government. Unfortunately, many private institutions do their best to become better at the same methodologies. Thus, what should be the ultimate goal of education is not. All too often, traditional schools train ("condition", rather) children to focus on beating tests or outmaneuvering requirements, rather than acquiring knowledge itself. There is definitely survival value in both the 'beating' and 'outmaneuvering' strategies, but I would suggest that many of the ills we see in current society are strongly influenced if not directly caused by such emphasis.

    Outside of the government's will in the matter, how one defines and rates intelligence and achievement in both abstract and survival senses has a great deal to do with the relative importance of the three concepts you ponder. The current U.S. President is a classic example of one whose survival traits have served him well, but his "achievements" raise serious questions in both net value and ethics axes. IMHO, the imprint of factory school mentality coupled with the rich kid syndrome are all over his behavior patterns.

    There is value in any experience, even negative ones, and I do applaud the efforts of myriad unsung teachers within "the system" who do their best to spark understanding and creativity. It is indeed true that fundamental understandings must follow learning how to learn in order for AHA! to happen, and to me it is a miracle that so many children do grow up intelligent and learn to make their own contributions.

    And, let me say, learn to be _humble_ contributors... Salud, blackstarr!

    Don Wilde
    "There's more than one level to any answer."
Re: Learning vs Education vs Studies
by Elias (Pilgrim) on Mar 03, 2006 at 15:48 UTC
    The rule of thumb used on business consulting is that 70% of what we learn, we learn from experience, 20% we learn through direct coaching and only 10% we learn in class rooms. At the same time the definition of learning often remains elusive to most organizations, hence the ineffectiveness of what they offer their employees.

    So your point is right on the mark. In fact, we all should focus more on Learning, and less on Education and Studies (and in so doing, use Education and Studies for Learning).

    Cheers, Elias.

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