By Linda Conlin, Pro to Pro Managing Editor

Our columns today offer the perspectives of a teacher and of a student. For those of you who are mentors, it’s important to connect with your novices with a way to help them understand what we do and why, and to make it relevant to the daily experience. Hands-on experience combined with theoretical knowledge provides the best learning opportunity in our field.

Confucius put it simply, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Theoretical knowledge is the basis for practical knowledge, and explains why things are done a certain way. Mistakes are inevitable when practicing without background knowledge, and practical knowledge helps in understanding theoretical concepts, a sort of upward learning spiral. Practical training benefits both the novice and the trainer. For those of us who have been in the field for many years, we may do things by instinct without having to “figure it out.” By training someone, we step back and remember the theory that explains the action.

In my days teaching anatomy and physiology of the eye, an introductory course, a number of students grumbled, “Why do we have to know this?” They were prepared to learn about glasses and contact lenses, but not “this biology stuff.” The answer, of course, is that to correct vision, you have to understand how it works, and that requires knowledge of the structure and function of the visual system. I learned from my students that it was important to illustrate the practical application for the material with anecdotes from my experience. It was rewarding when I ran into a former student a couple years after she took my course, and she said, “I still remember the story of the old man in the cowboy boots.” (I’ll share that story another time.)

Still, while anecdotes provide a way to relate to practical application of theory, it isn’t the same as rolling up one’s sleeves and doing the job. As Jane Aubrey said in the movie For Love of the Game, “It's never quite how you play it in your head.” We imagine the delight in our patients’ faces as we deliver stylish eyewear that allows them to see a bright and beautiful world. But it’s nearly impossible to prepare for all of the various face to face patient scenarios, not to mention mechanical issues, which ECPs see every day. Clearly, teaching and learning in our profession is a precise combination of both theoretical and practical knowledge. Mentors must ensure that their apprentices have plenty of both. For teaching tools in the theoretical that have clear practical applications to benefit teacher and student, check out our CEs at