Experience vs. Theoretical Knowledge

fact vs. fiction

What makes someone an expert?

What qualifies them to teach others how to do something, give “expert” advice or offer an “expert” critique?

As someone who has actually been doing for a living (for nearly 30 years) what I studied in college, my personal experience has been that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to truly KNOW how to do something until you’ve actually done it.

I studied marketing, advertising, and journalism in college.

I did plenty of student projects, wrote for the campus magazine, and even participated in a regional advertising competition. Yet it wasn’t until I graduated and got my first job working in an advertising agency that I realized how much I didn’t know. What I learned in college was theory. I gained knowledge on how things were supposed to work in the real world. What I learned in that first job, and in the 28 years since then, is how things actually work.

Theory is a great foundation.

It gives you a starting point. So you at least look like you know what you’re doing. You know the terminology and buzzwords. But you’re far from being an expert.

Recently, I’ve encountered people in the online teaching world, sharing what appears to be “expert” opinion on what it takes to teach successfully online. They quote online education theory and best practices… things like the number of seconds an image should remain on screen, what types of images are most effective, the ineffectiveness of talking head video lectures vs. PowerPoint-esq presentations, how to price and market courses, and even how much money you can expert to make. And yet, these “experts” don’t have online courses of their own.

I see many budding online instructors absorb this advice with gushing appreciation.

And, it concerns me because this advice is sometimes total misinformation—at least when compared to my real-world experience teaching online—and, I’ll base my future actions on real world results over theory any day.

And yet, on the Internet, anyone can pretend to be an expert. Anyone can share opinions as fact. Anyone can act like a hotshot. But I wonder if they ever really stop to think that they may be hurting others with their advice (I’m sure much of it is well-intentioned, even if it’s off-base). I wonder if they’ve ever stopped to think that MAYBE they ought to go out and try out all their theories before they start teaching them to other people.

I believe you need practical experience before you start sharing advice.

Yes, you can learn a lot in college, or in a book, a course, or from a coach or mentor. But until you’ve actually gotten out there and tested those theories you really don’t know how they’re going to perform in the real world.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And social media is a virtual hotbed for the sharing of opinions. I just believe it’s important to delineate between personal opinion and expert advice.

What do you think?

Do you believe someone can be an expert if they’ve only studied a topic? Or do you think they need to have spent some time applying what they’ve learned in the real world before offering advice to others? Please post a comment and share.


About Debbie

After spending 32 years in marketing, Debbie now spends her time blogging, teaching online courses, doing volunteer pet therapy, and encouraging others to follow a more inspired path through life.

1 comment on “Experience vs. Theoretical Knowledge

  1. You are making an excellent point here, Debbie. I have been working with net-based courses since 1999 using different kind of platforms, administrating and planning them together with the actual lecturers who have then hopefully been inspired to use different tools and methods. But since I don´t lecture myself in the different areas that are my responsibility to offer courses in , I have always tried to take part in different kind of online courses to get the student view. I have a pretty good picture of the teacher´s point of view because sometimes the line between me and the teacher is so thin that I almost do most of the work of the teacher as well. In the university (Åbo Akademi University) I work at the emphasis has always been that if you are administrating online courses you also have to enroll in them yourself to get both sides of the coin so to speak.

    And yes even though I have my feet firmly planted in the university world I do not think that knowing theory is enough to call yourself an expert. Then on the other hand I have to admit that because of my university background I have some difficulties with the whole concept of expert. In the personal transformation industry at least (which I am interested in) everybody seems to be an expert on very loose grounds. And theory seems to be a bad word – just as having a j.o.b. or working in Corporate America.

    Fascination stuff for me looking at all of this through my culturally (Nordic) tinted lenses from almost the other side of the world 🙂

    Warm greetings from

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