Kristopher Kline (Unmistakable Marks) commented to me about my column, “Lifetime Learning,” from the November issue of POB. His comments concerned the difference between technical training, review of familiar material and actual continuing education.

I don’t think anyone in this field will question the value of technical training when it comes to all of the new technologies and processes that are evolving. I, for one, have abandoned my former practice of ignoring the instruction book that comes with a new tool or toy. I seek out forums where I can learn from the experience of others and unlock some more of the capabilities or fun of my new acquisition. That one is easy.

When it comes to reviewing familiar material, I think we are all guilty of listening with half an ear. After all, we learned that years ago and we’ve been practicing for years or decades. That familiar material is often the basis for how the newer tools and technology work. It’s back-up knowledge at the very least in case there is a question or problem with current tools. It’s what causes you to comment, “That can’t be right.” And then, it prompts you to dig in and find out why a result appears wrong. It’s part of what is often called “muscle memory,” and, as with any muscle, it needs to be exercised or it will atrophy. So, revisit and refresh on those things you feel are common knowledge. A great way to do that is to teach it to someone. You’ll find yourself stretching those stiff muscles as you seek to present the material and to deal with questions. Remember, exercise is good for you.

Continuing education builds on each of these, but it must add something new. Technical education on some new tool will inform you about that tool and its use. It will draw on your current knowledge and skills, but it should also take you to somewhere new. Don’t mistake acquiring technical knowledge with continuing education.

Let’s take an example from John Palatiello’s guest column about subsidence. In a coastal survey, your technical knowledge and acquired skills will help you quantify a result. There is a 2-inch difference in this section of the coastline from the last survey. You can examine the previous survey and judge the quality of the result. You know your tools, and you can certainly vouch for your result. And you can give an opinion on your degree of confidence in declaring a 2-inch variance. You might need new knowledge to venture an opinion on whether it is the result of a rise in sea level or coastal subsidence. Go ahead and pursue that new line; that learning will add to the other two types of knowledge and make you a better professional.

The next time you find yourself (or someone else) saying, “That can’t be right,” you’ll be able to say, “It can. It is. And here’s why.”

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