Why you need experience to learn effectively

productivity Jan 13, 2024
Why you need experience to learn effectively

These days, there is a lot more emphasis placed on obtaining knowledge and not enough on getting skin in the game. If you've ever wondered why some people spend so long before acquiring certain skills, this is why. Today, we'll be going over why you need experience to learn effectively.

The points we'll be discussing are:

  • Theory is theory, practice is practice
  • Creating a foundation for the knowledge
  • Intensity is key. Theory is not intense

Learning is a process

Keep in mind that just because you implement these tips, you won't be able to learn things extremely fast. Everybody has their sticking points, this process just serves to make them less sticky.

Theory is theory, practice is practice

If you asked high school me how I managed to play solos when I was in jazz band, I wouldn't have been able to give you an informative answer. Back then, I didn't think about it when I did it and yet it always turned out ok at the very least. 

It will always benefit you to have some knowledge of anything you want to learn or improve at. When I started out in band class in high school, we started with how to put together and play our instruments before playing any songs.

In fact, we started playing on the first day after everybody assembled their instruments. It was glorious and terrible as you would expect from a whole class of beginners.

However, before long we had improved enough to the point that we were starting to sound like a true ensemble.

So, what's the takeaway? You need experience to learn effectively because theory is just that: theory. In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in reality, they aren't.

The one thing all the prodigies have in common is the practice of their profession, and consistent practice at that. They spend enough time practicing that they improve naturally.

Yes, acquire the knowledge of your chosen profession or skill, but don't let that be a substitute for actually performing. Even if it's only a few minutes a day, it's better than nothing.

Experience creates a foundation for knowledge

I remember when we learned the quadratic formula for the first time in math class. We memorized it by singing a song as a class. Then, when we went to do the practice problems, everyone was singing it so we all decided to sing the song and do the problems together. Fun times.

When you learn something and don't apply it, there's nothing in place for it to latch onto. In fact, it's often better if you try blind before learning any proper way.

Of course, there are exceptions, like with math problems: you can't solve the problem if you don't know the formula. However, the majority of things we experience are nowhere near as formulaic as math.

You need experience to learn effectively because your experience shows you the mistakes to avoid and important points to remember.

In the case of something like a math formula, you see why you need the formula. After all, without the formula, you wouldn't have been able to solve the problem.

In the case of music, you learn not to play too fast by playing too fast and making mistakes because of it. This teaches you to slow down before you speed up.

The list could go on, but the main point here is that the experience shows us why we need the knowledge. Without that why, it's a lot harder to use it effectively.

This combining of a why with knowledge makes the process of learning more efficient by making it easier for the knowledge to get into long-term memory.

Next time you want to learn or try something, just give it a go. The worst that can happen will oftentimes not be detrimental to your life.

Theory on its own is not intense enough

I learned a few years ago that learning has one key thing in common with exercise: intensity. If there isn't enough intensity, then you gotta put in way more reps than you want to if you want results. Personally, I'd rather not dump all that time into repetitive learning when I could just try my hand at it and possibly gain a self-esteem boost for the day.

Those who are skilled at something spend time practicing the skills needed to be skilled more than reading up on how to be skilled. Both are important, but one is more important.

Think of it this way: did the first person who figured out how to play the piano beautifully know all this theory? Probably not. Would they have liked to have that knowledge? Probably.

So many people in the modern world are so skilled at research and nothing more. This is probably why so many students hate it when teachers ask you to show your work.

You need experience to learn effectively because theory on its own is not strong enough to act as the foundation.

Knowledge of a skill is meant to bolster your skills, not be the foundation. If you try to use knowledge as your foundation, it will crumble very quickly.

Instead, knowledge is the stuff that holds the house together. Experience acts as the bricks, while knowledge acts as the cement that binds it together.

The important part is how you 'apply' the knowledge. Most people acquire the knowledge before the foundation is even built, which is fine. 

However, most people also then go on to never build a foundation with something solid. They want to use knowledge to build the house but are then confused when it starts to melt against the sunlight.

Next time you're looking to try and learn something new, keep in mind how knowledge and experience interact with each other. This will ensure you learn faster, and more effectively, and will enjoy the process more.

You need experience to learn skills

Those who have skills are experienced in their craft. They've put a lot of hours into it, and the result is their skill at whatever it is they do.

You too will have to put in many hours if you wish to obtain your desired skill. Just remember, the master has tried more times than the student has failed.

- Karl

P.S.: Starting Next week, I will only be making blog posts once a week on Saturdays.