Jul 10, 2007

Value of Education & Tacit Knowledge

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked whether I use any of the stuff I learn in school. Usually I am asked by people that haven't attended any higher education and have made it "just fine" in their life without it. They don't see how taking an English, Economics, or Stats could have helped them in any way.

My response to them is always that I use the knowledge I gain from school every day. Their follow-up question is usually a variation on the following, "How can you possibly remember and apply everything you learn in school on a daily basis?" This one is a little bit more tough to answer.

As I finish up my Econ 112 (micro economics) class this semester and start studying for the final, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information that we have covered over the semester. I don't remember it all. In fact, I'm finding I don't remember much of it at all. So what value did the class bring to me and how does it help me? The answer is newly acquired tacit knowledge.

I recently read a post by Phil Windley about some difficulty he had troubleshooting an issue with his Mac. He posted a follow-up post that touched on the tacit knowledge needed to utilize troubleshooting tools like Google Search. His follow-up post was a response to a riff that was done by Jon Udell on troubleshooting for normal folks. (I recommend reading both Jon and Phil's posts on the subject.)

These posts got me thinking about that eternally nagging question that I am constantly asked by my well-meaning friends about school. It dawned on me that although I don't remember everything I learned in my Economics class, I gained tacit knowledge that will help me solve problems down the road. The nice thing about tacit knowledge is that it's not particular. I can apply the tacit knowledge gained from Micro Economics to my personal and professional life. I also know that if I ever need to delve deeper into a problem, that there is an Economist out there that has the tools to solve the problem. Had I not taken this course, I would have no clue that someone had already figured out the solutions to the problems that may be vexing me at any given time.

The point here is that the value gained from education, especially undergraduate study, isn't the ability to solve certain equations or understand the supply and demand curves for an oligopoly. The point is that because I took the time to try to understand these concepts at some point in my life I now have another tool in my tacit knowledge toolbox that I can use to my advantage. Attending a College or University is a prime opportunity to acquire this knowledge. It isn't any wonder to me that those with degrees from higher education are more valuable to their employers and to the world in general. I'm not saying that tacit knowledge can't be gained elsewhere, I'm just saying that time in school is not wasted regardless of how pointless the current subject may be.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

One of the largest benefits I've seen of attending higher education is the ability to learn and stick through something. Having to commit to studying hard to obtain knowledge that I'll likely never use (think of determining the amount of voltage the ground would absorb if a cow shaped like a perfect Gaussian sphere of 2 meters were struck by a bolt of lightning!) increased by staying power and ability to learn abstract concepts. At least from a technology perspective, we're going to be stuff in 5 years that doesn't exist now. Being able to learn new skills and solve problems are more important (at least in our industry) than knowing how to write helloworld in Ruby, C/C++, Pascal or even Java.