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Phil Wickenden: Learning and doing must come as a pair

For some reason, our society separates learning and doing. Somewhere along the way, we decided that one interfered with the other and that is to all our detriment. The thing we usually seek to label as “learning” is actually more about “education”. It revolves around compliance, rankings and whether or not something specific will be on the test. Continuing professional development anyone?

Being good at school is not the same as learning something. There are more than 32 million people going to work every day in the UK but few of them read books or take lessons about how to do their jobs better. It is considered a distraction or, at best, inconvenient.

The gap is real. It often takes a decade or more for a profession to accept and learn a new approach. For instance, it took gastroenterologists a generation before they fully accepted most ulcers were caused by bacteria and changed their approach. So what happens if the learning we do is accomplished by always engaging in it in conjunction with doing? And what happens if we take a hard look at our doing and find the time to actually learn something from it?

When police departments invest time in studying their numbers and investigating new approaches, they discover that efficacy and productivity go up, safety improves, and so does job satisfaction.

When science students devise and operate their own lab tests, their understanding of the work dramatically improves.

Education (the compliance-based system all of us went through) is undergoing a massive shift, as big as the ones that have hit the other industries that have been rebuilt by the connection and leverage the internet brings. And yet, too much of the new work is simply coming up with a slightly more efficient way to deliver lectures and tests.

The alternative? Learning that embraces doing. The doing of speaking up, reviewing and being reviewed; the learning of relevant projects and peer engagement.

Learning and doing together, at the same time, each producing the other. If you want to learn marketing, do marketing. If you want to do marketing, it helps to learn marketing. That same symmetric property applies to just about everything we care about.

To quote the ancient rockers: “We don’t need no education.” But we could probably benefit from some learning. In the middle of this constant doing, we might benefit from learning to do it better.

Phil Wickenden is a consultant



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