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Learning for Learning’s Sake

Short post this one. Feeling like having a quick rant today! Am I in a minority for thinking that learning should be an end in itself and not the means to something else?

I am thinking in particular of the distinction between vocational education and non-vocational education. My first degree was probably as close to being non-vocational as you can get – I studied English Literature and Philosophy. Did these subjects “train” me for a job? Of course they didn’t. Although many years later when I was given a project to set up a regional ethics committee for health research, there is no doubt that the Ethics part of my degree was helpful. There is also no doubt that the logical mind training of Philosophy was really useful in teaching me how to think. English Literature meanwhile taught me so much about the human condition, about life’s challenges and about how we think. It also made sure that I was widely read – you read a shed load of books when studying English! These subjects are called “Humanities” because they teach us about humanity.

And both subjects gave me a passion (some would say obsession) for learning, a limitless curiosity.

There’s a world of difference, in some ways, between subjects like English Literature and Philosophy, and subjects that train you to do a job.

One type of education is no better or worse than the other. And the world would be a much poorer place if we only saw education as a route to earning money as an adult. What an uncivilised and impoverished world that would be!


Also published on Medium.

2 thoughts on “Learning for Learning’s Sake

  1. Thanks for a valuable set of comments that build on my post. As you correctly point out it’s not s case of either this or that. Thanks for reacting to my rant!

  2. I think there’s ample room for both approaches to education. For those whose interest in learning is more utilitarian, then education is a means to an end. I believe that applies to at least 50% of the population. These individuals attend university or a formal training program in order to get a job. They complete subsequent training as required and go happily on their way.

    For those who are a bit less task oriented, educational opportunities inform them, and they draw on those learning experiences in various ways depending on the demands of the challenge before them, whether that’s in the context of their employment or outside the workplace. I believe there is more inherent creativity in people who view education as valuable for what it is, not simply for what it does for their employment situation.

    I should also say that I’ve known plenty of people who are in occupations that require them to be highly educated (physicians, lawyers, engineers, etc.) who have a very utilitarian view of education, so I don’t believe this discussion is as much about level of training after secondary school as it is about attitudes toward learning in general. And perhaps ‘attitude’ is the wrong word. Maybe mindset? I think people who are wired up to be more creative tend to have a more open mind about learning in general than those who are not.

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