Life Motto: Learn by Doing

Life Motto: Learn by Doingfeatured

Did your school have a motto?

Do you remember it?

Did it have any affect on your life whatsoever, when you were in school or afterwards?

These are actually serious questions. I’m curious to know what kinds of mottos other schools have and how they’re presented to students.

The motto at Cal Poly, SLO, where I spent five-ish wonderful years, is “learn by doing.”

Life Motto: Learn by Doing {the ponytail diaries}

You will learn this within five minutes of setting foot on campus for a prospective student tour. You will continue to learn this when you apply, when you’re accepted, during freshman orientation, and really throughout your time there. It truly is something the faculty and, honestly, most of the students take to heart.

“Learn by doing” is actually a large part of why I went to Cal Poly over UCSD (one of my other top choices). At UCSD, I was told, I’d spend most of my first two years taking GE courses. I wouldn’t really get into literature courses or have a chance to take creative writing until my junior year at least. At Cal Poly, I had taken half of the core English curriculum series and a creative writing class by the end of my sophomore year.

It’s a simple concept: why spend all your time sitting in a lecture hall, when you could be actually doing something, applying the lesson, and learning the skills in a more hands-on way?

The idea was to just get students to jump in and try something, to learn practical skills instead of just theoretical knowledge. That by doing it yourself, by making mistakes and figuring out how to fix them, you get a better understanding of how to do whatever you do. You really see the effects of “learn by doing” in the engineering, architecture, and agriculture schools, but it’s a way of structuring requirements, curricula, and classes that permeates the entire university.

For a perfectionist like me, this is really hard to live by. When I’m doing something new, I either want someone else right there beside me, holding my hand and helping me every step of the way, or I keep looking for one more class, one more tutorial, one more lesson to internalize before jumping in and doing it. And then I need to keep resources nearby — an expert or boss to ask for help, a YouTube video (or five), a book, detailed notes, something to refer to the second it gets hard and I’m unsure.

So I remind myself to “learn by doing” just about every day.


  • That’s my kind of learning! I always did better in situations like that. As for the motto — if any of the colleges I went to had a motto, I don’t remember it.

    That being said, I did some adjunct teaching for a couple years at a local two-year school. It was Freshman Comp, so it’s hard to make it too exciting at times. But I kind of went with this idea — do it. Instead of just lecturing, I tried to give as many things to the students to keep them writing in different ways. I always got positive reviews, so hoping I did something right!

    • You probably did! The other great thing was being on the quarter system, so classes were only 10 weeks long. This meant in the first class, you were probably jumping right into a lesson of some kind.

  • I always thought that was such a great motto! And SLO is such a gorgeous place to get out and about in, with so many places to dig in and learn!