Learning Without a Classroom


Please understand that the below are the comments of an individual not trained in education. I am a welder that likes to share his trade. I have watched some Youtube videos while staying at a Holiday Inn Express! ­čÖé

I have been blessed with a skill that I enjoy doing. This started during my HS years. I had the opportunity to attend training in High School for 3 hours a day for 3 years, various shop classes throughout HS, and 42 weeks of training in the US Navy for welding. Though I never attended “college” for welding, I have a pretty good amount of “formal” education but the majority of it was “hands on”. As I look back though, the formal training is really is just a small part of my overall “learning” as a welder. I’m not talking about the “work experience vs formal training”, but more about what I have learned on my own because of an interest. Since HS I was interested in going beyond what was in the classroom. Not because it wasn’t challenging, but more because I wanted to know what the instructor knew! I learned about welding inspection because I wanted to know what the inspector knew. (Sometimes it may be better to not let them know that you know what they know!)

My 1st “welding only” instructor was Ed Hemmingway, Kingsbury Vocational Center, Memphis Tn. He remained a very close friend for many years until his death. He is missed. Anyway, I was extremely interested in all things welding and was allowed access to the teacher’s office. IT was a gold mine! AWS Welding Handbooks, Jeffersons Welding Encyclopedia, AWS Welding Journal Magazines, various sample textbooks, slides (the kind needing a projector), and so much more. This is where my learning really began. Three hours a day, 5 days a week for three years of “formal” training consisting of a little classroom time but mostly shop. But what was learned at home or at the expense of other classes with a “borrowed” book was what increased my knowledge the most.

While stationed on various US Navy Submarine Tenders, I had access to the “Tech Library”. Another goldmine full of microfilm and microfiche technical publications printed by various industrial organizations. ALL FOR FREE. Including the silver paper for printing. (Note, It doesn’t last for years when printed.)

There are numerous ways we learn. Some of it under the direction of a teacher, some within a group in which there are various “experts”, and some on our own. I’m sure there are more detailed discussions of this topic and I’m speaking as an individual not “trained” in education (A wannabe/shade-tree instructor maybe !). Each method of learning has its advantage and disadvantage but the one I want to discuss is the “on our own” and some of the things needed for learning on your own.

On your own!

Please understand that I don’t intend to suggest that this is the best method for learning, It is, however, one of the most available! Its the one we are always in control of. It may not be for everyone but I think its more possible than many think. The ability to learn things on your own is dependent upon a few things. They are desire, materials/information, feedback, and application. I will discuss each of them a little in the future but right now I will focus on desire. Caution! I sometimes really get carried away typing and of course have no formal writing training other than what the Memphis City Schools provided many years ago.


There has to be a strong desire to learn something for any type of learning to be effective, however, its the cornerstone of learning on your own. The good thing about it is that almost everyone has experience┬álearning on their own because of a strong desire. Those things we are interested in that are hobbies can consume a great amount of our time as we research, discuss, apply, correct and retain concepts. I have been blessed that my primary “hobby” is pretty much anything welding related. I have a few others such as photography, computers, a little woodworking, and a few others. Each one of the non-welding hobbies has been an interest over the years and in some circles, I am quite knowledgeable, in others, not so much. Its all related to the peer group. I will talk about one of my hobbies below to give an idea of my experience.


As mentioned above, I enjoy doing things with a computer. In 1986 I purchased a Tandy 1000EX. My sole purpose for doing so was to “store” welding related information on floppy disks that I could possibly share with others. No GUI, no programs, just MSDOS and GWBasic. So I looked at the printed manuals at almost every moment I wasn’t working. Yes, the manuals were bound and printed on paper!

After much trial, error, and visits to Radio Shack to see if there were any new books, I was able to write a few programs in GW Basic. These programs would perform various welding related calculations for filler metal requirements, distortion estimations, and even Ultrasonic Testing Calculations with graphics. I was still active duty in the Navy and was able to actually utilize some of the skills I had learned to extract data from the shipboard 3M system to track my jobs as Shipfitter Shop Supervisor (11A for you Squids) without the need to come in early.

Getting to the point, I used computers for what I enjoyed and learned what I needed to complete the tasks I wanted to complete. Maybe 5 years had passed and I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from the American Welding Society. I was employed at that time by a fortune 500 company as the Quality Assurance Manager and Welding Engineer and decided I should get a degree.

It didn’t work out but during that time I audited a 2nd-year computer programming course at Jeff. State Community College. On the 1st night, the instructor explained that he was Fortran Programmer for a group of banks in Birmingham. The course was in QuickBasic. He had no clue how the interface worked and I helped him with showing everyone how to do the install and get started on the all so popular “Hello World” dive into programming. I explained to him that I had learned GW Basic, Quickbasic, HP3000 Image DBMS, and Dbase. He said that I should bring him in a program I had written.

The next class I brought in the trusty┬á 9 Pin Dot Matrix Printed┬átractor fed sheets consisting of about 6000 lines of code and a 3-1/2″ floppy with the compiled .exe program. I was told that I had wasted my money and that we wouldn’t get to most of the concepts I had included in my program. The one thing I wanted to learn was File I/O for the purpose of making my own welding databases that could be compiled as .ese’s. Quickbasic was NOT the tool.

Though I’m sure I missed out on some very basic concepts provided during a formal “education”, I had learned enough concepts to discuss them with a professional and apply them in a way to reach my goals or realize they wouldn’t be reached in that class! The basic skills of reading comprehension that were developed and refined in public school provided me with all I needed to learn anything I wanted.

Desire can play a big role in what we learn on our own or even when assisted. But that little extra “hunger” to learn a little more can be a great asset. Think about your hobbies or those of a friend. You read things whenever possible, you watch shows or youtube videos about it, and when the situation permits, you talk about it with those that may or may not be interested in it. So not everything we learn or are even good at must come from a teacher or mentor. However, understand that having a person assist you along the way can be a tremendous help!


I will write some more about this subject but suffice it to say that if I had the internet as a kid, not only would I have saved my parents money and bookshelf place for grocery store encyclopedias, I would maybe even be a bit more knowledgeable….or confused. The internet is a great and power source of information, some true, some not so true.


As far as the internet goes, feedback is easy. Good feedback that helps one learn, maybe not so much. Social learning is great but not all social media participants are helpful. More later!


Much of what we learn will quickly dwindle away if it’s not applied. Sometimes within minutes! There is no way I could diagram a sentence today. I am sure the exercise was repeated numerous times in High School. I can still read and write because those skills have been applied daily since I left school. With learning on your own, you may not get the chance to apply the things you learn. Application in conjunction with feedback helps my brain find a good place to store that information. More later.


Final Comments

This was written because of my interest in possibly helping those individuals who are interested in increasing their knowledge about welding. In my opinion, formal learning of any subject that increases an individuals interest in the topic will often lead to learning more on your own. There are a vast number of resources out there. Some are accurate about a topic and some may not be so accurate. In my opinion, as an instructor, if I can increase a person’s interest in a subject, they are going to learn. If I just tell them something, maybe they will or maybe they won’t. The key is the interest in the subject.

When someone tells you something on a forum or group, research it! Maybe even look at some written sources that have been reviewed and edited by professionals in that field (Books on Paper often fall into this category).

I recently published a post about studying for the AWS CWI exam. It may be of interest to some and is somewhat related to this.



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