The Learning/Doing Gap

Our society separates them. Somewhere along the way, we decided that one interfered with the other.

Go to school for 8 years to become a doctor–most of that time, you’re learning about doctoring, not actually doing doctoring.

Go to work as a copywriter. Most of the time, you’re doing writing, not learning about new ways to write.

The thing we usually seek to label as ‘learning’ is actually more about ‘education’. It revolves around compliance, rankings and “will this be on the test?”

Being good at school is not the same as learning something.

One reason that we don’t incorporate doing into education is that it takes the authority away from those that would seek to lecture and instruct.

There are 56 million people in K-12 (compulsory education) in the US right now. Most of them do nothing all day but school, failing to bring real-life activity, experimentation and interaction into the things that they are being taught.

And there are more than a hundred million people going to their jobs every day in the US, but few of them read books or take lessons regularly about how to do their work better. That’s considered a distraction or, at best, inconvenient or simply wasted time.

The gap is real. It often takes a decade or more for a profession to accept and learn a new approach. It took gastroenterologists a generation before they fully accepted that most ulcers were caused by bacteria and changed their approach. It has taken our justice system more than thirty years to take a hard look at sentencing and corrections.

It could be because we’re confusing learning with education. That education (someone else is in charge and I might fail) is a power shift from doing, so I’d rather be doing, thank you very much.

What happens if the learning we do is accomplished by always engaging in it in conjunction with our doing?

And what happens if we take a hard look at our doing and spend 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 goes 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 that 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 plus tests.

I see this every day. People show up at Akimbo expecting lifetime access to secret videos, instead of the hard but useful work of engagement.

The alternative? Learning. Learning that embraces doing. The doing of speaking up, reviewing and be 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 all this doing, this constant doing, we might benefit from learning to do it better.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin

Hi. I’m Seth Godin. I’m a teacher, and I do projects.

For more than thirty years, I’ve been trying to turn on lights, inspire people and teach them how to level up. This blog has been appearing daily for more than a decade. One day, if we meet, I hope you’ll share with me your favorite posts. Even better, I’d like to hear about how a book or course helped you interact with the world differently and make a difference.
Seth Godin

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