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Three Reasons Why Mechanical Engineers Should Seek Out Applied Learning Experiences

Three Reasons Why Mechanical Engineers Should Seek Out Applied Learning Experiences

Applied learning combines theoretical knowledge with practical experience and then adds a layer of compliance education surrounding legally enforceable engineering codes.

Almost every mechanical engineer, regardless of the length of their career, knows that professional success depends largely on their ability to quickly learn something new.

Sometimes the skills are hard skills, like mastering a new technology or program, and sometimes they’re soft skills, like cross-functional communication. Sometimes this learning involves reviewing basic theories of physics or thermodynamics, sometimes it means getting trained on a new machine.

But whether the learning is theoretical or practical, it should always be done in accordance with legal guidelines, regulatory standards, and industry best practices. On-the-job training, which is often driven by the need for a quick solution to an urgent problem, doesn’t always support the development of comprehensive competencies.

But applied learning does.

Applied learning combines theoretical knowledge with practical experience and then adds a layer of compliance education surrounding legally enforceable engineering codes.

How is applied learning different from theoretical knowledge?

Working in engineering without a solid theoretical foundation is like trying to play a new board game without reading the rules–something will happen, but it probably won’t be what the game’s inventors intended.

Understanding scientific and mathematical principles makes it easier to effectively solve problems in timely, cost-effective ways. But ask anyone who has convinced themselves they can fix their septic pump after watching a YouTube video, and they’ll tell you that theoretical knowledge is no substitute for practical experience.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? It’s impossible to become fluent in a language without speaking regularly to native speakers. People can’t make a wedding cake or run a marathon or maintain a complex motor system without practice, training, and time.

But for some reason, it’s easier to recognize this reality with hobbies than it is with professions. Many certified, trained engineers feel frustrated when their certifications and training don’t allow them to design, build, and maintain a fill-in-the-blank system.

Applied learning and theoretical knowledge at a glance

  Applied learning  Theoretical knowledge 
Definition Educational approach whereby students learn through directly applying of skills, theories and models to a subject  Learning the core concepts and foundational knowledge about a subject 
Benefits Applied learning helps you acquire the specific techniques you need to do your job as well as how theoretical knowledge works in reality  Theoretical knowledge provides context and helps learners understand the "why" behind a subject 
Considerations Learners may require ongoing guidance to integrate experiences from applied learning with their job  Learners may find theoretical knowledge alone is limiting in the hands-on jobs of mechanical engineering  

Why Applied Learning Experiences Are Necessary

Because they work with more expensive or harder-to-access materials and complex, highly calibrated machinery, young mechanical engineers often enter the workforce with less practical experience than their software or electrical engineering peers. The resulting gap between conceptual and functional knowledge means new engineers often face a steep learning curve.

This gap exists for experienced engineers forced to learn new skills as well. As they move between industries and technologies, it’s not uncommon for senior leaders to lean heavily on their theoretical knowledge while they build up practical proficiency.

Here are the top three reasons mechanical engineers should focus on applied learning experiences:

  1. Regulatory codes and standards are constantly changing or being updated.

    These codes and standards aren’t stagnant. As living documents, they’re regularly reviewed and updated to keep pace with new legislation and advancements in technology. After all, nuclear technology hadn’t even been discovered when the first Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code was issued in 1914.

    As the international leader in developing codes and standards for mechanical engineers, ASME has been setting global consensus standards for everything from nuts and bolts to plumbing supply fittings to nuclear power plants since 1884.

    The ASME codes are part of legal guidelines in many US states, but they’re an industry standard around the world. Compliance with these codes ensures that engineers are operating under best practices for safety, performance, and standardization.

  2. Rapidly changing technology.

    Even people who aren’t engineers can see the intense rate of technological advancement. Phones, computers, and TVs are outdated almost as soon as they come out. Zooming, now a daily part of life, meant something very different to elementary school students two years ago.

    In mechanical engineering, this progress looks like:

    • Dramatic improvements in additive manufacturing capabilities
    • Increased use of digital twins
    • Upsurges in the adoption of AI and automation platforms
    • Rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

    For the engineers who have to work with and develop these technologies, independent applied learning is the only way to stay on top of new trends and best practices.

    ASME courses can be self-directed, a series of live lectures online, or a hybrid guided study. These blended learning experiences ensure everyone from entry-level engineers to experienced leaders can learn new technologies in the style and timeline that works best for them.

  3. Multidisciplinary engineering is quickly becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

    The increased digitization of almost the entire industrial economy has made it impossible for mechanical engineers to remain siloed in their workshops. The ability to work with and understand the needs of multiple technical and non-technical

    ASME has recognized this, and helps teams position engineers for success. For example, ASME helps its members develop well-rounded skills through a variety of career resources.

Learning now saves time later

Being an engineer during the Fourth Industrial Revolution necessitates a commitment to lifelong, self-motivated learning.

ASME’s Learning and Development program is intentionally designed to be stackable and portable, meaning classes (and the skills taught in them) build on each other. All ASME courses are formed around current codes and best practices no matter which skill or technology is being taught.


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