We have all heard the saying that “experience is the best teacher”. We may not have stopped to consider why this might be the case.
There are numerous ways to learn. We have constant exposure to the media, we attend formal educational facilities, we read for entertainment, we attend seminars related to our work and the list goes on endlessly.
When we learn, it may be through listening, seeing, smelling, touching or tasting. It is a reasonable assumption that when more than one sense is involved, the experience is more deeply ingrained in our memory bank. In addition, when we sit in a class and learn, it is not like being in another environment where failure carries a stiffer penalty. Failure can sometimes teach us as much or more than success. We learn the problems that failures create and likewise the benefits of success.
This is not to infer that we should not seek formal education. It does point out that “hands-on” experience in addition to classroom experience is a better format to prepare students for the varied challenges that they will face in society and the workplace.
We can tell a young child that something is hot and not to touch it, but this advice may be ignored. We hear a wail from the child as they touch the hot item. We can be assured that the bad experience will have a more dramatic affect on the child than the warning.
One area where experience may be secondary concerns extremely hazardous situations. Human intellect and abstract thinking gives us an advantage over the lower animals. We can be educated concerning extremely hazardous situations and learn to avoid them.
For example, an animal might dash into fast moving traffic and suffer serious injury or death. Human intellect allows us to learn that certain situations should be avoided because they might result in serious injury or death.
We are fortuntate that we have the ability to conceptualize situations that we do not want to experience due to the negative effects, but we should appreciate the fact that experience is a great teacher, especially in situations that do not represent a danger.
I don’t believe that many of us would submit to having serious surgery performed on us by a surgeon that was only educated in class, but never had any “hands-on” training. That is a prime example of experience being important in the process of learning. Mistakes should not be the result of inadequate learning experiences. They may be a part of the process as learning occurs, unless the learning experience places the student in danger of serious harm or death.
Experience may not always be the best teacher, but in many cases it is due to the re-enforcement of the process by incorporating multiple human senses into the process.