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What College or Universities Can’t Teach

Here’s a secret none of your teachers will tell you: the most important lessons you learn will probably not be learned in a classroom.

Once you learn that, a whole new world of education opens up to you. As Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Unfortunately, in today’s environment, that sentiment is more true than ever. Colleges and universities can impart great lessons, but none of them can teach you quite the same as real-world experience will.

You should be offended by this idea. After all, in the United States, your massive college loans are so set in stone that you can’t even use bankruptcy to protect yourself from having to pay them back. If you’re in college, you’re going to be in debt for years – no matter what you do.

And what’s all of this for? To learn things that have nothing to do with what your experiences will be in the real world? Well, saddle up for a mind-expanding lesson in the irrelevance of most colleges and universities. You’re about to learn about learning as it exists in the real world.

Learning About Learning

Learning about learning? That doesn’t sound particularly useful or valuable. You can hear sentiments just as redundant as that in your Philosophy 101 class.

But think about it this way: colleges and universities don’t really teach you in the way your brain was designed to learn.

10,000 years ago, did ancient Man have schools to attend? No! His brain was wired for learning the good, old-fashioned way: by experience. Trial and error. By real-world practice.

Once you accept that your brain will only start learning as it starts doing the things you’re trying to learn, you see how a major component of the learning process is virtually ignored by most college classes.

Sure, you might memorize a few facts and figures you were explained during a lecture. But what value are these facts really bringing you in the age of quick information?

And when you consider that your brain needs to hear the same information over and over again in order for it to really sink in on a permanent basis, you realize that most of your college lectures are just going to go in one ear and out the other.

It’s a sorry state of affairs. But luckily there’s a way out of this mess of learning, and that’s through learning about learning.

In the book “Talent is Overrated,” for example, author Geoff Colvin notes that Benjamin Franklin’s extraordinary writing talents were actually largely self-taught: Franklin would read essays written by those authors he wanted to emulate and practice writing the same thoughts, comparing the quality of the two until his writing improved.

Learning is an active experience, and there are few things less active than sitting in a classroom chair.

The True Meaning of Experiences

Our life experiences are not just memories; they have real emotional and cognitive relevance to us. We learned not to touch hot stoves not by being told about it, but by touching the stove and learning the difficult lesson first-hand. Why is there so much fear of failure in modern classes? Why are students who make mistakes given F’s instead of being encouraged by the thought that their failure is at least feedback?

The true meaning of our experiences is that they form us. But they have to be real experiences; our brains are hesitant to hold on to anything that isn’t perceived as relevant to our immediate benefit or survival. That’s why it’s so important to experience failure in the real world; we need to condition our brains to become averse to this condition in order to make ourselves more successful.

This doesn’t make failing bad; in fact, it gives meaning to our failures. By failing, we at least know in the real world that we have feedback. As Thomas Edison said, he didn’t fail 10,000 times, but rather he found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. This perspective on our experiences should shape education in the 21st century; alas, we’re still learning by absorbing a mere percentage of what we’re reading and what we’re listening to. It’s a shame.

Advancing Oneself in the Real World

Finally, the most oppressive disadvantage of colleges and universities is that they do not teach us about what happens in the real world, the exact place these very universities presume to prepare us for.

Why don’t we learn about personal finance? About mortgage loans? About business loans? About how to take care of a car, or a house, or an apartment? Why don’t we learn to cook or clean, to dress ourselves, to network socially with others, to become a productive member of society?

If you have an answer for these tough questions, you’re doing better than I am in figuring out exactly what it is that these colleges and universities have in mind for the very students they are charged (and to whom they excessively charge) with preparing to be educated members of society.

Education in the real world is an active experience. One can listen to Youtube lectures and try to learn the old-fashioned way, the college way; but how quickly will we figure out that we actually learn very little by learning this way? That’s why it’s so important to learn to learn outside the matrix of predetermined education and instead take a bold step into the real world of learning experiences in order to change how we live.

Not grasping these simple facts about nature and the nature in which our brains learn is the primary failure of post-secondary education these days. Instead of optimizing the in-classroom experience, an entire paradigm shift is required: allowing students to learn what they need to learn and to learn it first-hand should be the way of education in the future.

Judging from how many students are still willing to burden themselves with excessive student loan debts, the education of the future may be consigned to being education of the long-term future.

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