The Importance of Applying What You Learn

Posted by Sam on September 29, 2016

Academic Success

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Open books stacked and layered on top of one another.

I was having a conversation with a friend a couple days of ago about a particular classmate in one of her courses. She was irritated by her classmate’s tendency to interject into any class discussion by adding irrelevant facts and comments. Partially embarrassed that friends might describe me in a similar manner, I asked why this bothered her, to which she replied, “He knows everything about nothing.”

In an odd, roundabout way, this got me thinking about the courses I have taken throughout university and which ones left me walking away with really useful (as in practical) knowledge and skill sets. Nothing is more reassuring of your decision to enrol in university than when you find yourself actually applying a skill or practice you learned in class in your life outside of school.

While classes obviously vary depending on which program you’re in, below you can find four courses I took, as an example, that proved to be the most practical in terms of skill and knowledge takeaway. While the first two courses are mainly geared toward Communications and Marketing majors (this does not necessarily mean that those outside the program can’t take them), the remaining two are general education courses open to all majors.

Group of people cheering and clapping.

Organizing Social Movements (AP/COMN 3220 3.00)
This third-year course not only looks at historical cases of mass social organization (the Cuban Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.) and how they came to successfully accomplish specific goals but for the course’s final project, students have the opportunity to take some of these concepts and actually organize a social movement of their choosing. The project lasts for the entire course, and students can choose any organization or charity to which they wish to offer their services. It is up to your group to take the skills learned in class and plan, market and ultimately hold a charity event revolving around your organization.

My takeaway: Distributing responsibility among members of a small group, developing a proposal from start to finish, developing an achievable goal and implementing it over the course of a specific timeline, creating promotional material (posters, cards, social media posts), holding informational kiosks and seminars around campus, developing confidence in public speaking.

Overhead shot of a crowd at a Blue Jays game.

Organizational Communication (AP/COMN 3111 3.00 + AP/COMN 3112 3.00)
This third-year, two-part course instructs students on how to manage communication between people in different types of organizations. Whether it is a small family cottage business employing 12 people, or a large environmental non-for-profit employing hundreds of employees, students will take away an understanding of how to create effective inter-organizational communication. Even better is the course’s structure, which is part online, part in class: all lectures are posted online, while tutorials are held in the classroom.

My take-away: Looking at different kinds of organizations varying in size, purpose, etc. and understanding what type of communications structure is required (employee-to-employee, manager-to-employee, employee-to-manager, for example) for that organization to be the most successful, and even just eliminating needless “noise” and being more clear and concise when communicating between friends and family.

Close up of a Canadian five dollar bill.

Introduction to Administrative Studies (AP/ADMS 1000 3.00)

As a great way to starting adulting, this introductory business course is useful regardless of your major. In its most basic sense, students will walk away with a general understanding of the current business environment, particularly within Canada, and universal financial knowledge useful for just about anyone, especially first-year university students. It is also offered fully online.

My take-away: Understanding basic business terms (GDP, GNP, gross vs. net income, etc.), learning that your purchase of a product is the rough equivalent of lending your vote in an election, developing an understanding of how certain businesses operate in Canada and why they operate in such ways (which has affected how I choose the kinds of businesses I interact with as a customer), and learning the sometimes inherent manipulation that occurs when using seemingly free services (social media, big data, etc.).

A man giving a speech to a crowd.

Modes of Reasoning: Techniques of Persuasion (AP/MODR 1770 6.00)
What makes an argument valid? How do you remove fallacies from your reasoning? How can you be more convincing? Students can learn all this and more in Techniques and Persuasion, a course based in the science of logic. This offering takes something as vast and lofty as logic and critical thinking and teaches students how to approach them in a more calculated manner. Rumour has it that Sherlock Holmes co-developed the curriculum.

My take-away: Putting forth more concise arguments, unveiling false reasoning, disarming useless or illogical arguments, defending myself better in a debate setting, distinguishing between logical and emotional reasoning and being overall more convincing in almost any setting.

While some programs are naturally inclined to have a more practical and specific skill takeaway (we may think of Engineering, Nursing or Accounting, for example), for those outside of these types of programs it’s important to understand what kinds of courses are worth your time (which will obviously vary for each individual). A good question to always ask yourself before enrolling in a course is, “Will this knowledge get me closer to where I want to go and the person I want to be?”.

Next time you find yourself googling “bird courses at York” when deciding on your electives, instead of choosing the easiest course according to one or two random people on the internet, look more to courses catering to your specific needs and interests. Both your money and mental effort will be better spent.

Have you ever found a course that left you walking away with a particularly practical skill set? Feel free to comment below, or tweet us at @YorkUStudents.


Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

See other posts by Sam