December 12, 2018

Learning vs studying: the key to winning

For many people, the words studying and learning have always been interchangeable. You studied mathematics in school and learned how to drive — both activities involved building on your knowledge and developing yourself in some form.

Still, there is a fundamental difference in meaning between the two words. Studying is usually associated with formal education and is more about simply gaining knowledge. Learning, on the other hand, is not just about gaining knowledge but about applying it in situations in your daily life.

The difference between studying and learning may seem trivial at first, but failing to understand the difference could be the breaking point for an individual or organisation. The following are the reasons why you must go beyond studying and begin learning continuously.

First, applying knowledge after understanding and studying it is becoming increasingly important. It is one thing to truly understand a topic but the real test of knowledge is to use all the knowledge that you’ve gained in different real-life situations.

As learning means applying, and applying entails testing that knowledge in a situation, there is a chance of failure. But that’s the beauty of learning — you win some, you lose some, and at the end of the day, you learn from those mistakes. You build experience and skill in this manner.

Second, studying alone is no longer enough in this fast-changing era. There was a time when studying and earning a degree was enough to get you a job. Of course, you’d need some experience for higher-level jobs, but a degree signified that you were “educated” and knowledgeable enough in a given field to do well in the job. If you held a master’s degree, chances are you would climb even higher on the corporate ladder.

This definitely still rings true today; however, a degree is no longer the main and only requirement for getting a job or getting a promotion. These days, experience and transferable skills such as empathy and leadership are increasingly becoming more important. People have to go beyond the classroom and learn other things to keep up.

All this is happening because of the fast development of technological advancements such as machine learning and automation. They’re taking away a lot of repetitive and automated jobs, while we will see an increase in jobs that can support those advancements. This means the current access to learning these future skills is very limited — we need to already have the mindset to learn.

Third, studying and learning are like pushing and pulling. Studying pushes content to your learners, while learning occurs when the learners themselves pull the content they’re interested in learning. A push of content is needed as people may not always be aware of certain topics that might be suited to them.

However, pushing content alone can amount to forcing people to learn something. Therefore, it’s important to also provide enough space for learners to take a look at the content in front of them and then pull out the material they believe is relevant to them and their work.

Finally, studying and learning are like understanding content in a passive and active way. You can say studying is about observing and absorbing the content — you understand things in a manner where you do not really engage that much with topic.

Learning, on the other hand, is a lot more active — you understand things through hands-on experience.

Learning actually calls for practice. For example, you study for a test or exam while you learn to play a musical instrument. Learning is a lot more active as it builds on skill too, not just your knowledge pool, like when you’re studying — just like the maths and driving example we used at the beginning.

These crucial differences between studying and learning are the difference between just getting by on a daily basis and being able to win in this modern era.

I have mentioned time and time again that our world is moving so fast, businesses will continue evolve and the skills required to keep organisations afloat will change; hence, we can no longer stop at studying, rather we need to keep on learning.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading Executive, Leadership and Innovation Capability Development Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa