Should Experience Be a Prerequisite for Learning?

Katie Everson at Chief Learning Officer posed this question recently. She was reflecting on the difference in MBA work produced by students who were returning to school after a decade or more of experience and those who were coming straight out of undergrad. Unsurprisingly, thoseducationvsexperiencee with work experience were a better able to make concrete suggestions in service of creating efficiencies.

While I understand that controversy makes great clickbait (hey, I clicked!) I’d really like to see questions like this put to rest. What we see, again and again, is that yes, of course people who have a lived context to apply that which they are learning “get it” faster than those who don’t.   But because “the way it is out here in the real world” is often NOT the very best we can do, or well-adapted to new information, the influence of those who don’t know “it can’t be done here” is also extremely valuable.

In a world in which conditions change quickly, we’ve GOT to do more than pay lip-service to the notion of life-long learning.  And we’ve got to provide opportunities for people to get the experience they need.  While we’d like to be able to hire people who already know how to do what we need done, the reality is, we all have proprietary ways performing our most important functions. And those ways change in response to environmental pressures. Our experienced people need learning opportunities from outside their on-the-job perspective. Our inexperienced people need work opportunities in which to test the theories to which they’ve been exposed.

Formal learning does not have to be at a distant remove from informal learning. Both forms can and should be a regular part of the work experience for our people if we want high-performing, state-of-the-art organizations.