My Daughter Wants To Cook: how learning and application are distinct

One of the things I liked to do when I was a principal was to help students understand how what they learn will be useful for them.

Students will encounter this subject called Food and Nutrition when they first enter secondary school. I always tell them that this is not a subject for females alone. Some of the greatest chefs we know are men!

I also encourage students to apply what they learn, rather than let it remain as head knowledge. Whatever food recipes they will learn in Food and Nutrition should be put to great use. I encourage students to think about preparing meals at home for their families occasionally, as a way of showing their skills to family members.

My Daughter Wants To Cook

All these came back to me recently. My daughter had learnt Food and Nutrition as a subject, but she seldom stepped into the kitchen to cook. The kitchen was the mainstay of her mother. It was only about a year ago that she offered to cook for the family. She would search through the recipes she learnt in school and try them out for us to sample.

In March and April, my daughter decided to get busier in the kitchen. She offered to cook dinners on Sundays for the family. Maybe she was bored from being cooped up at home, or she just wants to get her hands busy with what she learnt before. Or this is just part of her growth journey as a teen. Whatever the case, the whole family certainly benefited.

What you will see below are some of the dishes she made during the past weeks. Do pardon the rather unsightly pictures. The presentation is mine (because I scooped the food to my plate) while the taste is hers.

Parent and child dish – also known as oyakodon. Actually it should not be known as parent and child. We are eating the mother after all.
Chicken congee. I finally learnt the difference between porridge and congee, and it’s not a difference in rice grains.
Butter flavoured cake made in a rice cooker. Yes, innovate since we don’t own an oven.
Spaghetti with meatballs – the meatballs were made and pan-fried immediately, rather than left chilled before frying.

Therapy In Cooking

I attended a webinar organised for public service officers on the topic of self-care recently. One speaker spoke of how we need to collect ourselves during this period where our usual routine and autonomy are restricted. The suggestion was for us to pick up new interests or deepen existing ones, and even seek ways to volunteer so that we can move away from developing a sense of loneliness or despair, move towards a growth zone and develop a sense of relatedness through helping others.

I guess that was probably what my daughter did in coping with the circuit breaker measures.

Learning And Application Are Different

This episode helped me understand the difference between domain knowledge and tacit knowledge. Knowledge about a domain can be taught or learnt, and subsequently stored into a person’s mind. But domain knowledge cannot be translated into tacit knowledge simply by telling someone about it. Tacit knowledge is simply useful accurate knowledge that exists in the minds.

So while I can tell students that learning Food and Nutrition is useful because they have head knowledge concerning food recipes, nutritional values and how to take care of their diet, these are merely information residing in their minds. Telling them that the knowledge will benefit them since they can cook for their families is just an act of telling. It will not become tacit knowledge. Such information can only become tacit knowledge if they process them within themselves, have the opportunity to practise, and grasp the awareness that they can make use of these information that will benefit themselves and others.

In short, the act of learning is separate from the act of applying.

We cannot keep telling people what they should do. There is a space and time for that, yes, but it is not enough just to tell. The environmental conditions need to be present for tacit knowledge to be created. Giving people the chance to apply what they learnt, the platform to show what they can do, are just some ways of helping to form tacit knowledge. Which is why learning in schools cannot be theoretical. There must be elements of practice so that students can grasp the concepts and work them out in real life.

Just like how learning about food recipes can lead to an act of feeding a family.


The next time you embark on a course of study, the next time you want to learn something, I suggest that before you start, besides considering why you want to learn, consider also how you want to apply what you learnt. That way, you will deepen your commitment to learning, and it will provide a greater sense of drive in wanting to complete the act of learning.

There are many forms of knowledge out there. I have only illustrated two different forms of knowledge here. If you are interested to find out more, you can read from this page written by Chris Drew. I find this website very helpful.

How do you learn, and how do you help yourself to apply knowledge in your life? Do you have any proven strategies you find useful? How do you improve your learning capability so that you can learn better? I will be interested to hear from you about this!

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