Formal Learning Meets Life Long Learning

(This post is my take on the Daily Prompt Back to School.)


I keep a long quote, spoken by Merlin, which is from The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White that I won’t reproduce in entirety here, but starts out telling us that “the best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn”.  Merlin goes on to expound about the way that life ages us and difficulties peck at us but our response should be to “learn why the world wags and what wags it”.


Clearly I keep this quote because it speaks to me.  I was raised to seek out knowledge and this was nurtured by my own personality as well as by engaging and inspiring teachers throughout my school years.  I understand that others may have had very different experiences which have made their achievement of knowledge through formal learning very impressive indeed.  I build nearly every day upon that foundation of learning that was started very early for me, not often in a formal learning setting.


public domain: Socrates & Plato

public domain: Socrates & Plato

Though I did just go back to school this past spring to earn a certificate in Project Management.  And last fall I took my first credit class, in Supply Chain, in more than a decade.  It is very helpful to combine knowledge gained on my own and through doing with knowledge gained through formal learning.  With the weight and importance placed on testing and metrics, it is not surprising that somehow formal education is considered ‘better’ and more worthy than knowledge gained on one’s own.  But is it appropriate?


There are a number of people from the past whom we revere, rightly, but who were mainly self-taught in some manner or who expanded well beyond the parameters of their initial core area; Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Danny Kaye… I wish some women would come to mind, but I know that there are many more people of both genders.  Would these people now be rejected because they didn’t have lots of letters after their names to prove their worth?


I gain great benefit from learning, different kinds of benefit when I curate the information myself or join a formal class, but always there is great benefit in continuing to learn.  This is why I keep this quote close to mind always.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

8 responses to “Formal Learning Meets Life Long Learning

  1. Tom Marchok

    Beth, I recommend reading, ‘How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci’. DaVinci was the original lifelong learner. He kept a notebook with him at all times to record ideas and observations.

    • Thanks Tom, I agree that he is someone who pursued knowledge on a wide variety of topics well beyond the art of which we are most familiar. I also forgot to mention Benjamin Franklin.

  2. Pingback: Back to school | Sue's Trifles

  3. When I was studying chemistry, we had to take a course on “Using the Research Library.” On the first day of class, the instructor asked us to make a list of all the places we could get information. He took off a point if we hadn’t included “asking someone who knows.” We can learn from anyone.

    • Very good point, Dan. I think that we have this narrow notion of learning and how to accomplish it – which is what I was trying to express without getting to deep or long winded. Opportunities to learn are everywhere and in many forms. We just need to be open.

  4. Great post. I grew up in Canada, where heading straight to grad school is not nearly as expected as it is in the United States. So I never went and never really wanted to. I still read widely and constantly — history, biography, economics — so feel no need to sit in a classroom to learn. The problem with so much formal education (for me, anyway) is that it’s so passive and boring! Journalism has been a great gift as we are constantly learning about the world through our work.

    My happiest formal education was studying interior design, in my late 30s, where everything was hands-on and experiential. I loved it and did very well at it. That was an eye-opener for a former English major.

    • Thanks, Caitlin. I love to learn, to connect possibly disparate bits into a greater whole. But I am not fond of institutional thinking, or the supposed need for rote-ness that is often part and parcel of formal education. I think we have this in common, this need to personally dig in – not just be told. I used to love to tutor (and hope to loop back to it) because I could work one on one with struggling kids and find out how to connect them to the fun of learning new things, of satisfying curiosity – not just regurgitating facts.

      • So true! Journalism has been a perfect fit for me in this respect — it still shocks me, 30 years into it, that I get paid (not well!) to learn and to teach others, through my books and articles. Experiential learning is the only kind that really seems to work for me.

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