Learning By Doing

The saying goes, “experience is the best teacher.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

There’s something to be said about having real world experience. Being a doer is something to be coveted.

For as long as I could remember I’ve always loved to learn. In fact, I still pride myself on being a lifelong learner. It’s interesting because I never feel satisfied with anything when it comes to knowing because I feel like there’s always something new to learn.

Over the last few months, I’ve been going on tours and interviews for highly competitive independent schools for my daughter. One morning, I was attending a parent tour here in New York City. Like most of these tours, there was a presentation for parents. As all the parents sat down waiting for the presentation to start, there were informational packages being handed out.

In the package, there was a small booklet with a profound quote on it. It said, “How a child learns to learn will impact his or her life forever.”

I was completely blown away.

I’ve been reflecting on this quote ever since.

Beyond the quote, what amazed me most about the school was their unique jobs program.

I remember thinking, “What elementary or middle school has a job program? Aren’t the children supposed to be learning?”

Oh, but they were learning, by doing.

This school provides a unique and authentic context for experiential learning. Each school group is responsible for a job that is essential to the school’s daily operations.

For example, the 8s are responsible for the school’s post office. They make school mailboxes, organize supplies, design stamps, set price lists and collect, sort and deliver mail every day.

So as the tour progressed, I noticed several children speed walking through the halls. I quickly realized they were picking up and dropping off mail.

It didn’t stop there.

The 9s run the school store. Yes, a real store. They’re responsible for managing inventory, tracking and ordering products, and keeping a record of sales and expenses.

(This was my absolute favorite! I legit geeked out when I saw this…kinda geeking as I write this)

The 10s are the school’s sign makers. This creative bunch makes sure all health and safety information is posted throughout the school. They also make signs, handwritten or digital, that identify all rooms in the building.

The 11s run the print shop. They’re learning how to do letterpress typesetting on an 1890s Chandler Price Treadle printing press. They’re responsible for printing the schools stationary, holiday cards, and other literature.

The 12s have a unique job, they act as assistants to the 4s. They’re responsible for acting in a supportive role like mentors a la Big Brothers Big Sister of America. The school pairs these groups together to teach the 12s how to be accountable and compassionate individuals.

The 13s are the school’s journalists. They’re responsible for publishing the school’s newspaper.

Super dope school. Literally one of the most amazing schools I’ve ever come across.

Now pause for a moment and think about what these little meaning machines are learning on a daily basis.

The 8s are learning collaboration, organization, and logistics. The 9s are learning about supply and demand, comparative pricing, consumer behavior, and customer service. The 10s learning about language and written communications. The 11s are learning about culture and communication. The 12s are learning about research and becoming responsible citizens. The 13s are developing writing and interpersonal skills, and learning the design software used to layout the school paper.

But back to you.

How do you choose to learn? Hopefully by doing.

Learning by doing translates into higher learning gains and retention.

Confucius once said: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Let that marinate for a moment.

I know you want to achieve extraordinary results, but doing your best isn’t enough. You need to do your best in the best way possible.

And there is no better way to learn than by doing the thing you want to learn to do.

If you want to learn how to be a better writer, then write. If you want to learn how to be a better speaker, then speak. If you want to learn how to be an entrepreneur, then start a business.

You can read all the books you want. You can pick all the brains you want (please don’t pick brains, that’s weird). Until you actually get your hands dirty and do the damn thing, you’ll never develop the chops you need to become a master at anything.

Now there’s a place for vicarious experience. You know, taking advice from a mentor or watching the people you admire.

But who wants to have to endure losing a million dollars or going through a divorce to learn a lesson? I sure don’t, so I’ll eat up that vicarious stuff all day.

For everything else, I’m opting to learn by doing every time.

Sometimes it’s a great experience and other times it down right painful, but again, it’s the best way to learn.

You can’t put a price on actual experience. You get context. It’s one thing to have knowledge. But it doesn’t automatically translate into skill.

Want to know the best way to develop a skill? Do the work.

I explain it to people like this…

Do you know what rain smells like?

Now if you’ve ever smelled rain there’s likely all types of imagery going through your head right now. Not only that but you’re also actually smelling rain right now. That’s context.

A more tangible example would be something like riding a bike.

You could read a book or watch someone else ride a bike, but you’ll never get it until you get on the bike and start peddling.

There’ll likely come a day when you forget what you read in that book. But I can assure you that even after 20 years, you’ll be able to pick up a bike and start riding without missing a step.

You only get that from adopting a learning by doing mentality.

So how are you going to apply this to your journey? Let me know.

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