The Importance of Real-World Education
12. Nov. 2021
When was the last time that you sought out a new learning experience? Have you recently tried a new form of fitness, or taken a class at a local college, coworking space, or online? Have you attended a professional event where an inspiring speaker gave a keynote, or hunted down a self-development book that could help you get to the next level?
Traditionally, there are two places you go to learn something new: a classroom setting, or out in the “real-world”.
Today’s society has placed greater emphasis on the former, encouraging younger generations of people to travel down the path of higher education, into the walls of universities and onto postgraduate degrees. Many people view a diploma as the end-all be-all of knowledge, giving those who flourish in a traditional educational setting higher regard than those who have chosen a different path.
And we should give these educated men and women our respect. Attaining a level of higher education in the classroom is a huge accomplishment. It requires focus, determination, sacrifice, and a keen sense of critical thinking - all necessary and extremely important skills.
But, there is something to be said for getting a “real-world” education to match the level of your classroom education. In fact, you won’t succeed in today’s world without one.
What is a “real-world” education?
A real-world education is a set of skills or a breadth of knowledge that you attain outside of a traditional classroom or corporate setting. At a basic level, this differentiation can be explained through the classic idea of “street-smart” vs. “book-smart”.
In a traditional educational setting (think: a lecture hall, a corporate learning seminar, a structured mentor session), you learn in a predictable environment. You are subject to organized tests and curated discussions, created to help you add new, hard skills to your arsenal. Particularly in higher education, you’re focused on the details of your interests, diving into the microscopic levels of the topic at hand.
In a real-world setting, (example: visiting a new country) the idea is flipped. You’re taking in new knowledge in an unpredictable setting, one subject to quick, all-encompassing change at the drop of a hat. You’re placing yourself in an uncomfortable environment, so you’ll be forced to focus on many things at once, opening your eyes to the bigger picture of how we exist in the world. In the real world, you’ll learn soft and hard skills as you encounter obstacles and roadblocks designed to take you off course. You’re likely to spend a majority of your time re-evaluating everything that you thought you already knew.
A real-world education teaches you things that you would never learn unless you sought them out for yourself. You may read about triumphant scenarios, listen to podcasts about people who have figured out how to make their lives work for them, or corresponded with mentors and idols, asking for advice on how to succeed.
Without seeking out personal experiences, looking for problems to solve, and challenges to overcome, you’ll never fully grasp the concepts that these educational resources can offer you. You can’t achieve your full potential just by listening to others talking about their own successes.
You just have to get out there in the world and do it yourself.
How to get your Phd. in Life: Travel
One of the easiest ways to expand upon your real-world education is to make the decision to travel. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and into a new place where the culture is different than yours, where you will find a new challenge around every corner, is like taking an accelerated course in the School of Life. (If you don’t have the means or ability to travel, you can adopt a “traveler’s mindset” in order to take steps toward attaining meaningful real-world knowledge at home.)
We spoke to Kathryn Pottruff, an educator, entrepreneur, and member of Remote Year Panta Rhei, about why travel is necessary to becoming a well-rounded professional, how the traditional education system isn’t a one-stop shop for success, and how she has personally grown through her work and travel experience.
“The traditional education system is broken. As a result, people are going to seek out alternative ways to hone marketable skills as opposed to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Kathryn said.
“When you look at people starting out in their career, the thing that they need to focus on is developing a toolkit of skills that’s related to their interests, and also learning languages and getting exposure to different cultures.”
This concept was a major impetus behind Kathryn’s decision to join Remote Year. She broke out of the traditional higher education system in the hopes of using her knowledge to develop online courses and was intent on using her experience on a work and travel program to her full advantage.
“Developing online courses allowed me to reinvent myself as a remote worker. I love being able to work and travel anywhere” Kathryn said.
“I had to develop a whole bunch of new skills to support the transition. I didn’t know anything about how to do video, about social media, and I don’t know how to build websites. I can write courses, but marketing them is a whole different skill set. The skills that most people on Remote Year have are the very ones that I needed to develop.”
As a part of a Remote Year community, Kathryn was able to create lifelong connections with these professionals, and acquire skills with their hands-on assistance in tandem with her real-world education.
“I made some really interesting personal discoveries while I was traveling,” Kathryn said. “Notions like, ‘Happiness is the most important goal’ became clear to me. For years I had chosen to work instead of focusing seeking out new, exciting opportunities. It was a big shift, but it filled a large gap that needed filling. It was a very big life experience for me.”
“I learned what I didn't know. I have an older person’s perspective. I love the fact that I became technically competent. When I arrived I didn’t know how to use Instagram, Slack, Google Maps, or Whatsapp, and now I’m proficient with all of them,” Kathryn said. “These are the kinds of skills that were missing from my business, and I was able to perfect them with help from my fellow travelers on Remote Year.”
Beyond technology skills, Kathryn picked up a new outlook as she traveled. She decided to turn away from what made her feel comfortable, and instead embrace the educational opportunities that the world had to offer.
“I learned not to be afraid to try,” Kathryn said. “Everybody who goes on Remote Year talks about wanting to get out of their comfort zone. When I heard that the first time, I had this visual in my mind of someone standing on a beach, dipping their toes in the water, and saying, ‘Oh, that’s what the other side looks like’, and then running back. I thought, ‘Dipping my toes in the water isn’t going to cut it for me.’ I wanted to explore the outer reaches of my comfort zone.”
“There was one fellow [on Panta Rhei] that said, ‘My parents are 10 years younger than you and they think twice before going to the corner store, but you say ‘yes’ to everything.’ That’s why I was on Remote Year - I went because I wanted to see what the world was like.”
Another shift that Kathryn experienced on 4-month travel experience with Panta Rhei? Her definition of success.
“It really shook up my whole outlook, because before my life had been about finding a house I liked, getting a mortgage, and spending my whole life paying off the mortgage. Now I don’t care if I ever own a house again. But, if I don't get to travel, I will feel like I’ve missed out on something major.”
“I know that a life can change in five seconds,” Kathryn said. “If you keep doing the same things that you’ve always done, you’re likely missing out on tremendous learning opportunities.”
As an educator, Kathryn was able to take away many meaningful lessons from her time on program. After spending many years teaching in universities and corporations, Kathryn wanted to broaden her perspectives by travelling. A full fledged believer in lifelong learning, she continues to look for new opportunities that expand her horizons. At the age of 64, Kathryn is learning valuable life lessons that come with global travel.
The thing is, education is important in any form. However, the way to becoming a well-rounded individual is by attaining a unique blend of lessons learned from others, and lessons learned from yourself. That is the key to educational fulfillment. That is the key to a life well-lived.
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