Knowledge and Experience

I participated this week in a chat regarding the difference between knowledge and experience, and, more specifically, whether or not formal education is worth the price paid. Living in Canada, the price of an undergraduate degree is about $25,000 which is significantly lower than in the US. As a result, the length of time required to pay off any student loan here is much shorter than in the US, and the value of a degree may not be exactly in line.

I reflected on my own degree, and the experiences I had during university. I changed my majors several times over the course of 5 years, taking a fairly diverse selection of courses both within and outside my selected area of study. Yes, I had a social life, but I also had an academic life. Additionally, most summers I worked in one of the laboratories on campus.

Following my graduation, I spent several months looking for full time work, eventually taking a job at a large insurance company, where I remained for over 3 years. From there, I moved to consulting work, which I have been doing ever since,

I learned very different things on the job from what I learned in the classroom, and I don’t think either one could stand on it’s own. Sure, you don’t need formal education to succeed in life, but for most, it will help define paths. Likewise, without work experience, there is too much of a focus on the theoretical, which does not always reflect reality.

The ideal scenario is to have both, which is, perhaps, why co-op programs are so popular. However, this could be taken even further, with companies working together with universities to provide real world examples to be used in courses as projects and assignments. Some courses already Integrate guest speakers into the teaching schedule, which is great, but there is no replacement for hands on training.

If your company has been having a hard time finding qualified hires fresh out of university, you may want to approach the universities to work with them to better prepare their students for the real world. If you do so, then everyone wins as the students end up with a more practical education, and the businesses end up with a selection of prospects for employment who have been properly trained to work in the real world.

  • Anonymous

    Personally, I think that an undergrad degree is valuable, although not always in the ways that people expect.

    The question is whether something like an MBA – which costs a lot of money anywhere in the world – is worthwhile.

    Regarding knowledge vs experience – all the book knowledge in the world is worthless without time spent applying it in the trenches. However, I think ultimately people need both.

  • Elie

    Lots of real world experience without book knowledge means that you’ll sometimes err where an educated person would not, since you’ve been exposed to a more formalized education. But both forms of education are needed – both the formal, and the practical.

  • Anonymous

    In my experience, even the person with formal education is still going to learn the same hard lessons once they get out into the work force. I think the role of education is more subtle than teaching people how not to make mistakes.