“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Theoretical knowledge is the product of practical application. Practical learning (the ability to do something) is just as important as academic learning (theoretical knowledge about something). In short, it’s the difference between a thinker and a doer. An unfortunate number of people graduate from colleges or universities with a lot of knowledge and no practical ability. When they land up jobs, they spend weeks or months in training which is a cost to the company and a barrier they quickly need to overcome for achieving success. While skill-based learning comes naturally to some, many people are more comfortable with academic learning.

A human being does not develop the necessary deductive thinking that one would need to solve many of the problems in textbooks, at least without straining and thinking so much. One needs to experience practical application in order to absorb theoretical knowledge effectively, and understand problems. Today the Internet and computers in general, can help significantly in connecting practical application and theory. We cannot forget that many of the greatest achievers of our time have achieved their success while living for the most part in the “real world.”

Ever heard of the ‘Idiot box’ ?? – it is what we today call television (TV). Watching TV is mostly a passive activity except for the new smart TVs being manufactured today. While watching TV, you may come to be introduced to many things, but your senses never experience the events taking place on your TV screen and you never are given the opportunity to make a decision to influence those events. It is believed that a part of your brain is never used while watching TV, and your knowledge, from watching TV, is limited to what you observe of static events. We use theory (academic or general) in the same way.

Since ancient times, workers were always sent to workshops or factories to learn or practice their skills rather than attending a class where the teacher would explain the basics of smithing, masonry, tailoring, pottery or construction. Today we call this on-the-job training where you pick up skills while working rather than before you begin your work. On-the-job training takes place in a working atmosphere or situation, using the actual tools, equipment, documents or materials that they will use when fully trained. On the other hand, one might argue that one must learn how to walk before they run or leap. This is true, as one has to understand the basics before starting any task and it is for that reason that we first start learning the alphabet before we go to learning words or framing sentences.

If you were to read a book about ‘learning how to swim’, would its knowledge or content help if someone were to push you into the sea? You would probably try to push your legs and keep your head above the surface – theoretically that’s what you have read, but would it work? Not quite, it might have fatal consequences as you have only read theoretically how the movement of your hands, torso and legs should be. Its only when you have immersed into a body of water – be it a swimming pool, lake or at the sea that you experience how the water carries your body and what sort of movements would be required as well as at what speed and what pressures one must apply when swimming – only then would you actually be able to swim with ease.

The rewards of practical learning over theoretical knowledge are great:

  • There is great satisfaction in being able to accomplish something. When a person develops a practical skill, he/she can see the results right away: a well-cooked meal, successful day rock-climbing, or fixing a pipe that no longer leaks.
  • Practical learning helps people avoid desperation and sense of insecurity. People usually prefer to pay a sum of money to get these works done. Seeking assistance becomes a choice rather than a necessity.
  • Skills and talents can help you develop relationships. In the adult world, most friendships seem to come from two areas: group associations (work, community, religious gatherings etc.) and people who get together due to common interests. Practice developing a talent and one will find it easier to create relationships with interesting, like-minded people.
  • Skills help you develop confidence. When you can scale a mountain or replace a car battery, what’s to stop you from finding success in your personal goals? Accomplishing something tangible will make one feel better prepared to meet the life goals that seem difficult.

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