Why it’s called a learning “experience”

Three days from now Michael Ellsberg will be coming in to talk to the NYCHEA community about his book, “The Education of Millionaires:  It’s not what you think and it’s not too late.”   This evening Michael and I were finalizing some details for the event, and I mentioned what a learning process this whole thing had been for me.   “Yeah, talk about experiential learning!” Michael said.

I thought about that after we got off the phone.  You hear people say, “It was a real learning experience” all the time.  Never, however, in relation to anything that happens in school.   Why?  Because school is not, for the most part, experiential.

Example:   If school were all pervasive even into adult-hood (and thank god it’s not) then, in order to prepare for planning this event, I would have enrolled in a class.   In that class I’d have been given a textbook on the History of Event Planning.  Perhaps a famous event or two would have been dissected and discussed.   How was the venue chosen?  How was the seating arranged?  We might have debated the pros and cons of microphones and podiums.   Our assignments would include the planning of theoretical events:  One might be given the number of people and the type of event, and then be asked to plan the details.  Maybe a problem such as “What do you do if more people show up and the space is too full?  Or there are not enough chairs?” would be posed and we would need to propose three possible solutions.   Then, in order to “graduate” from the class, we would each need to write a paper on an event we would like to plan, including all the details of how we would find the space, promote the event, etc. etc.

The kicker is this:  Without a ‘diploma’ in Event Planning, no venue would allow you to be in charge of planning an event.  But would a diploma mean I knew what I was doing?

It sounds ridiculous when presented this way, doesn’t it?  I mean,  I learned a lot about event planning over the last month or so by simply jumping in and planning an event! Of course I had help.  My friend Melle Randall very patiently explained to me the requirements of the space we are using and its’ particular quirks.  Every space has them and once I knew what they were, I was able to plan accordingly.   We spoke regularly about food, light, sound, seating, childcare, staff size, etc.    I promoted the event online and wrote a short piece for the newsletter.  I was in contact with NYCHEA council in the very beginning to negotiate speaking fees, travel fees, etc.   Finally I discussed the details with both Michael and Blake Boles, and on Tuesday and Wednesday I will be on hand to make sure the set up goes smoothly.

A real learning experience.

Now of course there are times when a diploma is good – like if someone was about to perform surgery on me, I’d feel better knowing that person had gone to med school.   But often the best and only real way to learn something is to just do it.  By extension, often the best way to get hired to do something is to have experience having done it before.  Not controlled classroom experience but real world experience.   I read an article recently where parents of kids who’d just graduated college were complaining that although they now had a diploma, companies wanted them to do a year’s unpaid internship before hiring them.   Why?  Because more and more, companies realize that what they need are employees with real world experience and a diploma doesn’t give you that.

Where is the best place to get real world experience?

Kind of answers itself, doesn’t it?

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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One Response to Why it’s called a learning “experience”

  1. miriam brougher says:

    And even surgeons, who study anatomy and procedures ad infinitum, really only learn when they get to go into surgery units, first observing then participating. It is still a hands on learning experience. What is a little scary, I have learned from the MD’s I have worked for, is that the operating room time is being severely cut for residents, as government regulations (!) now limit time spent in the OR. So now we have surgeons coming out less frazzled, but also much less experienced. And there is no replacement for hands on experience; in any situation.