Learning and Studying

Two words – studying and learning – have always been interchangeable for me until I joined the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1982.  That was when I commenced applying the knowledge I had gained – especially in trigonometry and physics – while calculating various ballistic parameters for the long range guns.

Studying was the formal education I received at school and at the Academy where I gained knowledge – the basics – which stood as the foundation for all my learning.  Learning was all about applying the knowledge in many situations and there were many  errors, mistakes, commissions and omissions. I learned more with every passing experience.  While learning, there was always a chance of failure – I won some and lost many.

Let us examine the definitions of the two words:-

  • To Learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something. Learning is absorbing the information, testing its validity to the point of being able to understand the information.
  • To Study – to read, memorise facts, attend school, etc, in order to learn about a subject.  Studying is the act of gathering the information and poring over it, deciding what is relevant and what is not.

One studies to learn.  Many a times one studies a lot, but learns hardly anything.  One tends to forget what one studied, especially when the aim was only to score a few marks in an examination.  Here there is neither any addition to one’s knowledge nor development of any skills.

Studying is pushing and learning is pulling. The content is pushed to the students and learners pull the content what they want to learn.  In order to increase one’s English vocabulary, reading the dictionary alone will not suffice.  It is mere studying. Reading a book and referring to a dictionary is the ideal way as one learns more from the context the word is used than from its dictionary meaning. One may study English grammar for days, but without getting into real communication – both speaking and writing – it’s hardly of any use and one is learning neither the language nor the grammar. We learn the alphabets of a language by-heart, we learn to associate these alphabets to form words to read and write. We learn grammar, but study literature.

In mathematics there are only two digits – 0 and 1 – the rest are all combinations of these. There is only one mathematical operation – addition – subtraction is addition of a negative number, multiplication is continuous addition and division is addition of fractions. If a child learns this basic fact, rest will follow.

Doctors while at medical school memorise all Latin medical terms, and by constant usage familiarise with these terms. They apply their knowledge and learn to diagnose and also carryout a procedure or a surgery.

To be successful in any profession today, studying and earning a degree is not enough. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a Lieutenant  in the Army, but  the selection criteria is more about leadership qualities, empathy, problem solving ability, etc.  In today’s digital world with machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, these skills are more important than the marks scored and degrees earned.

For many, studying is associated with reading.  It may be true as one grows into an adult, acquiring knowledge and understanding various concepts. Babies are constantly learning, but are neither studying nor reading. Learning occurs at random too – with one’s observations and correlating the same with the knowledge already gained. Listening to someone well experienced in the field, one learns a lot.  It can be from a new experience, or from what one reads, analyses and perceives.

Studying at school (including home schooling) is vital because it teaches students essential life values. More than studying or learning, it is more about developing social skills and being a team player. Many students realised it during the pandemic.  

School gives the students  the basics –  alphabets, numbers, sounds, arithmetic skills and social skills. It develops problem-solving skills in students.  Expertise of the teacher helps  students understand and gain knowledge. Schools also help develop many hidden talents in students. It guides and motivates students to bring the best out of them. It is also an avenue to interact with other people. It is a place to meet new friends and colleagues. School enhances social skills with students  dealing with different kinds of people.

Owl, Reading, Book, Bird, Study, Animal, Line Art

Learning never exhausts the mind – Leonardo da Vinci

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them – Aristotle

The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you -B.B. King

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere – A Chinese Proverb

For your kind information and necessary action please

Thus ended most letters in the Indian Army.  During my young officer days, I asked a senior colleague as the need for ending all official correspondence with such a line.  He said that it padded up the letter and the letter would look incomplete without such an epilogue.

I never understood as to how the information could ever be kind to anyone and what was the need to send the letter in the first place in case no action was needed.  Someone told me that it was to be specific as to what the person at the other end must do.  If that person was ignorant of what is to be done with the letter, I never understood as to how that person could be educated about it with that very clichéd line.

The information asked for is attached herewith as Appendix to this letter.” This is another superfluous  epilogue I found in many letters written in reply to a query requesting data or information.  An appendix means an attachment and is never mailed in a separate envelop, it is always placed in the same envelop (herewith), and always with a covering letter (to this letter.)

As a Brigade Major and as a Commanding Officer were the only two occasions when I could get the staff and subordinate officers to doing away with these epilogues.  My reasoning was that it saved time, ink and paper (think of the number of trees that could have been saved.)

One clerk said that it had become an instinct and his fingers never stopped until he typed the epilogue.  One clerk said the idea was great, but will only be in practice until you are around and the next officer taking over from you would insist on the epilogue and hence the reluctance.

LOL, OMG, FTW etc are commonly used abbreviations in the cyber world in the age digital communications and text messaging.  These are understood well by everyone across the continents and have been evolved over a period of usage and it still continues to evolve.  As young officers, we were given a book of abbreviations to be used in the Army called ‘Appendix C.’  The introductory paragraph of the book said that use of abbreviations would reduce time and effort and assist in assimilation and it would facilitate telegraphy (old analog methodology of transmitting text).  We used to be summoned to the Adjutant’s office with the abbreviations book, to scan through every word in a document to be sent to the higher headquarters to ensure that any word that found a place in the abbreviations book had been abbreviated and in case the abbreviation used had been correctly used.  In case of any errors, either the entire page was retyped or else the correcting fluid was to be used.  One can imagine the amount of time spent on the task in place of the time it was meant to save.

When the entire world was using the word ‘fax‘ as an abbreviated form for facsimile (the current generation would not be aware of the origin of the word), the abbreviation book called it ‘fx.’  Luckily recently it has been changed to ‘fax.’  If you ask someone for a ‘lap,’ it does not mean that you want to sit on their lap or rest your head on their lap, but it is understood that it is a request for their laptop computer.

There is an abbreviation ‘DHPP‘ and the very same Appendix C calls it as ‘Diesel High Power Point’ in place of ‘Diesel High Pour Point.’  It actually means that this type of diesel has a high pour point.   The pour point of a liquid is the temperature at which it becomes semi solid and loses its flow characteristics. In diesel, the pour point is the temperature at which the paraffin in the fuel has crystallised to the point where the fuel gels and becomes resistant to flow.  It is surely not a Power Point presentation the least.

World over uses left aligned format for all types of correspondence (all lines in the letter are aligned to the left).  This facilitates easier reading on the hand held PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) and cell (cellular) phones.  The Indian government for its official correspondence still continues to have subject line centered and some parts offset to the right side, the Indian Army also continues with the age-old practice.  You can imagine how someone using a PDA is to read such a letter and make sense of it.

We need to change with time and cater for all the developments taking place around us in all aspects of life and official correspondence is no different.