Seth Godin wrote an interesting piece about education at the crossroads today. And he raised an interesting point:
School was the big thing for a long time. School is tests and credits and notetaking and meeting standards. Learning, on the other hand, is 'getting it'. It's the conceptual breakthrough that permits the student to understand it then move on to something else. Learning doesn't care about workbooks or long checklists.
About a couple of years ago, I was accepted into the Chicago Booth Graduate School of Business to pursue my MBA. I reserved my seat - and well, paid for the reservation fee. But I didn't get to pursue the degree.
Why? There were several reasons. (The three letters didn't come cheap - financially and time-wise!)
The other reason was, I couldn't answer the fundamental questions, "Why do I need this? What would this contribute to what I am already doing? After I finished my MBA, would I be a better man? A better person? Could I achieve the dreams I wanted to achieve without the sacrifices that I will have to make?"
I am sure that those who decided to pursue the MBA in my (supposed) class are now about to finish their year. Some of them will have focused on general management, some in finance. Some will have gotten offers for better jobs (in spite of the economic slowdowns), some will have gotten better positions in their companies.
But I still couldn't reconcile the risk/sacrifice and the reward of taking an MBA.
I guess I have always had this nagging feeling that schooling is different from learning. In school, everything is structured - there is a curriculum, there are books, there are schedules to be followed, there are tests to pass and credits to earn. In personal learning projects, there are none of those - one dives into the book and immediately goes for "so what?".
At least that's what I have been experiencing.
I have been studying C++ programming and advanced stat techniques (read: Bayesian statistics). I am progressing in learning (or relearning, I should say) C++ and object-oriented programming. But Bayesian stats? I am still in the first, initial steps.
The biggest thing that the programming re-learning personal project I have had? What Godin said: the breakthrough that permits one to understand it - the AHA moment, apply it to one's current responsibilities day-to-day and experiment with real-life scenarios, and eventually, to move on to other things when one has reached what one believes to be "sufficient knowledge".
Don't get me wrong - I am still enamored by the idea of having the "three letters" after my family-name. Or any three-letters, for that matter. In due time, I'd probably still take on the academia and sit for a certification exam in risk management or alternative investments.
And when I do that, I hope that I'd have that same "breakthrough" that Godin writes about - and what I have had so far with my learning projects.