"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast" ~Leonardo Da Vinci
Most of our youthful days are spent in long classes and boring lectures filling our brains with knowledge that we more than likely will never use again for the rest of our lives. What percentage of the world really uses the principles of circle theorem for instance? Who really cares about Pythogarus' theorem? As an educator, these are the types of questions I have often asked myself but when I really think about it, learning is all about making sense out of nonsense and being able to apply what we read, watch and hear into practice. Our ability to learn in this way helps us to grow as individuals and hone new skills, two things which are very critical for our survival in this world.
So, how can we ensure that we embrace learning as the intertwining of theory and practice? It is not a simple task (as an educator I can assure you that it is extremely difficult). However, I believe that we all can make the most of the knowledge we obtain by following these tips:
Learn to Relate to the Content
Things make sense when we are able to relate to them. This is one of the challenges that I have as an educator because I really cannot relate to most of the content that I teach the students. However, I have to find a way to make what they learn practical and meaningful. Being able to relate to a concept or theory does not necessarily mean that we have to be able to visualise how we can use it in our own lives. According to the Free Online Dictionary relate means "to establish or demonstrate a connection between". You may not be able to make a connection between a theory and your life but you may be able to make a connection between a theory and something you were previously taught. You would be surprised that by doing this your learning experience can become more meaningful.
Understand that There Is a Balance Between Theory and Practice
You can't have theory without practice and you cannot have practice without theory. There are several definitions for theory based on the context but I think the best definition can be found on the Merriam-Webster dictionary. This definition states that a theory is "a belief, policy or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action". Therefore, the belief that in order to develop self defense skills, one has to go to self defense classes is a theory. However, if you don't practice the skills learnt in these classes the theory becomes meaningless.
Use What You Learn As a Guide
How can I use what I learn to guide me to a brighter future? For instance, Mathematics is composed of several theories which, when put into practice, can help us to develop our reasoning ability and therefore make us better decision makers and analysts in the workplace. When you are able to put this level of value on what you are learning it is more likely that you will put out the effort to ensure that it is learnt.
If I had approached learning in this way, I probably would have been able to make better sense of what I was being taught. Nevertheless, I can help my students understand the tips I previously outlined to make the best use of their learning experience. Also, we must never forget that we are always learning in an informal way. By observing people around us we are able to theorise how we can become better people, but to make the best use of this knowledge we need to put these theories into practice. Embrace the lifelong learning experience you are on and make the most of it.