Classroom-09

Real World Learning: Why I Gained More From the Workplace Than the Classroom

Question. How influential were your college years toward the success of your current career?

I’ve had some awesome hangout time with high school students over the past few months, and when we talk work and job and future, I often get asked, “Should I go to college?”

The question has caused me to reflect on my own college experience and consider how it’s equipped me for success today.

What I’ve realized, especially as I’ve started this new business, is that the majority of the skills I use today are strengths that I learned and developed earlier in my career. My years in the workplace have equipped me for business success more than my years in a classroom have.

There’s awesome learning in both places, and undoubtedly the school learning provides a strong base for the work learning to build upon. (Take time management, for example. It’s a skill that is learned in college and is continually refined throughout the professional years.)

All that to say, this is how I’ve begun to answer these young friends:

My years in the workforce (both in the marketing industry and outside of it) have trained me for success more directly than college did.

Here are 5 quick reasons that I’ve gained more from the workplace than from the classroom:

1- What the classroom teaches is theoretical; the professional world is highly practical. I’ve taken marketing classes and accounting courses, for example, and that teaching is great–but until those skills are put into practice, they don’t mean a ton. The workplace gives context to theory. It puts meat on the bones and teaches the intangibles of how to use the what most effectively.

2- Learning by doing beats learning by seeing. I know there are different learning styles out there, and each human is unique. My style, though, is definitely in that kinesthetic “trial and error,” “get my hands dirty” category. While classroom learning does often involve hands-on elements (Remember chem lab? I blew up so much stuff), the core of it is auditory and visual.

3- When the stakes are higher, the learning is more real. The consequence for poor performance at school is a bad grade. The consequence for poor performance in the workplace is a million-dollar deal lost or even being fired. With more serious repercussions comes a more serious mental and emotional investment. Increased buy-in fosters greater learning every time.

4- I’ve gained tremendous insight from professionals a few steps ahead. Whether it be bosses, mentors, or colleagues, the relationships I’ve built in the workplace are invaluable. There is certainly opportunity to learn from a university professor too, but the reality of spending your days (all day, every day) alongside an older, wiser person has inherent power for learning.

5- Managing people has led to more maturity and learning than perhaps anything else. In general, people management is a skill that cannot be taught with a book or in a class. I’ve gained so much compassion and wisdom from actually leading and hiring and firing. A drive for servant leadership will always change us because it goes against our selfish nature (at least, it goes against mine!).

A drive for servant leadership will always change us because it goes against our selfish nature. Click To Tweet

The nature of life itself is that hands-on, real-life (“the school of life,” as they say) teaches more than a safe, insulated school of theory.

Regardless of opinion, the education world is truly changing due to digital’s influence. More and more, you can access online world-class teaching (for free or for a relatively low cost) that is specialized in the niches you want to pursue. I can’t wait to see how the learning industry–just like all other markets–will continue to morph as technology’s touch changes it.

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  • Matthew

    I have always said that I learned more in 6 months of working at my first job then I did in 3 years of college. You are right on the mark.

    • Thanks, Matthew. Yeah, I think the world is changing when it comes to this. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way, but education in the university setting is definitely for some people.

  • I went to an elite, Top 25 school and probably the only thing I received (which is definitely NOT nothing) was a broad network of friends spread around in various industries and callings. That is gold … but who I am today is far more about the path God brought me through in the marketplace than anything I got in the classroom. Amen bro. If you haven’t found him yet, you should check out James Altucher (on this, and many other topics). Non-believing language/content alert (;)), but so so good: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/01/10-more-reasons-why-parents-should-not-send-their-kids-to-college/

    • Yes, you definitely can’t discount the network of people you connected with through college, especially if you stay in touch with them. I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for the heads up about James. I had never heard of him. I’m going to check him out for sure.

    • Yes, you definitely can’t discount the network of people you connected with through college, especially if you stay in touch with them. I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for the heads up about James. I had never heard of him. I’m going to check him out for sure.

  • Norm Dimick

    University life taught me more about myself than anything else.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Norm. What were the top 2-3 things that university life taught you that you feel you wouldn’t have learned in the real world? I’m super intrigued. This has definitely sparked a fun conversation in our office.

      • Norm Dimick

        I’m sure I would have figured this stuff out eventually but College definitely put me on the fast track for some important career builders.
        1.) Confidence in my ability to keep pace with my peers.
        2.) How to meet deadlines and produce quality work under pressure.
        3.) Accelerated practical application of knowledge.

  • While I think both are equally important. I don’t think you can discount the knowledge, character and lessons college can teach a student who is fully engaged. I know that sometimes it is for some and not for others which is why I’m not critical of a person who doesn’t attend formal education after school. I think most people see college as a stepping stone to a piece of paper which helps them get a job. I think we have lost the real purpose of formal education after high school. Though I also think the school systems can take responsibility for some of the issues. The thing I think is critical is that you should let education get in the way of learning. Not only learning from experiences at the workplace but also books, courses and other things that will help you advance in your industry or career.