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3 January 2022

I learned more from X than I ever did from Y

by Florian

When I was in college, I met a guy in Poker club. He told me the following adage that I’ve been reflecting on recently:

I learned more from Poker than I ever did from my classes [at UVa].

I’m sure everybody’s heard this before and it’s usually in the context of comparing a “real world” thing against a theoretical, academia thing.

The subtext of this phrase is that the latter thing is somehow worse at teaching you something than the former. If you think about it though, the “X taught me more than Y” statement is more a reflection on the person than the information or mode of delivery.

To follow the above example, say a college level statistics course teaches you basic probability and risk theory. It’s taught by a highly educated and effective teaching professor who really wants to be there and is objectively well-run.

But, the class is at 9 am on Fridays. You skip a lot as a result and, besides, you’ve never learned well from sitting and listening in a big lecture hall. Compare this to your Friday night poker games where you’ve got some money on the line, you’re surrounded by friends, and in a competitive atmosphere that captures your attention maximumly.

Of course you’re going to learn more there! You care, it’s an interesting setting, it engages you more, it’s fun so you’re more inclined to do it, etc. This doesn’t mean the college course is bad, you just didn’t relate to it the same way and as a result you didn’t learn as much.

Maybe this is a pedantic and silly point, but whenever somebody says the phrase:

I learned more from X than I ever did from Y.

Ask if that’s because of the person or the things being compared. I’d wager it’s the former in most cases. And that’s totally fine! People learn in different ways. But, for that same reason, it makes the advice more-or-less worthless to you.

tags: posts - misc