Regurgitator vs. Impacter: The Need for Applied Learning

“What is the purpose of learning?”

Incessantly studying till three in the morning; cramming in math formulas; and memorizing concepts for exams. Sound familiar?

Photographer: Clare Na Hyun Kwon
Photographer: Clare Na Hyun Kwon (’18)

When taking college applications become imperative as students transition to their senior year that many tend to study for the sake of GPAs. Of course, grades do play a role in applying for college—but are they truly worth studying for?

Kelley Shim, a sophomore student, claims that in a world where there is pressure to enroll in a prestigious school and occupation, “memorising concepts for school exams is worth doing” because you receive high scores. She further argues that as high school students, our main objective is to “do well in school”, not necessarily to think about how to use it. Her point of view on studying is just one out of the whole student body, as many have similar views as Kelley. Students strive on academics by excelling in school exams and getting a 4.0 on their grade book. However, when asked about how they will apply their learning to life, many struggled to answer.  


To start with the definition, applied learning is an open-ended term: the Deakin University claims that it is a method to “motivate students” in developing “key skills and knowledge required for employment, further education, and active participation,” while others have defined it as a mean to incorporate concepts learnt at school into life.

As a student who has been pondering on what applied learning is, I had the invaluable opportunity to interview Genevieve Fowler, a Yale Graduate who is currently teaching at Groton School. She has studied mechanical engineering and is fascinated by applied learning, a skill that KIS has started to implement this year. When discussing  how applied learning can be assimilated in the Korean society, she suggested that students should realise that there “is more than grades once you enter college”; she even asserted that we should strive to find our interests, whether that is a sport or subject.


By interviewing Fowler, I now have a firmer grasp on the importance of applied learning and the idea of it. Like what most students believe, I thought that applied learning consisted of actions done outside of school, such as volunteering at shelters or creating an organisation to help others. However, I discovered through the interview that the projects and discussions we do at school are essentially applied learning; for instance, freshmen students had to write a narrative piece on an image taken during World War II for their joint English and East Asian Studies project where they had to create, think, and empathise based on a single photo. By doing so, they were able to develop understanding and compassion for those who suffered during WWII—an act of applied learning. Furthermore, in art classes, students create automatons wherein they have to intertwine their knowledge in physics and art. 


There is no doubt that helping others who are in need is an act of applied learning, as you are using the skills developed at school to aid others. However, what students often forget is that school is also a place to exercise applied learning, not just a pressuring environment to earn high grades.

If students shift their focus from simply memorising and studying to taking advantage of learning, they can greatly develop and employ skills. Time to time, we need to ask ourselves: “how am I going to use this unit/concept in real life?” After all, how are we going to solve the problem of world hunger, inequality, and other issues by memorising formulas and regurgitating vocabulary terms? These are questions that we need to ask ourselves and reflect upon, as it is important for us to know the true value of learning: applying the learning.  

—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (‘19)

*full profile of Genevieve Fowler:


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