I have rarely applied anything in real life from what I have learned theoretically in my school or college. Rather, concepts which I found trivial and quick to learn; helped me more than hard core theories.
Like, we all know that
Impulse = Mass * (Change in Velocity)
And I learned it as a kid while going with my father to the local market. In school days, whenever I come across heavy speed breakers, I have used this principle to my advantage. I take my bi-cycle in a slightly tangential direction in place of a straight one. Or, for that matter, I have applied it while taking catches in cricket matches with lowering my hands to reduce the impulsive force of the ball. However, I have learned 18 phase inverters (do not get put off - it is a boring concept in power electronics) after two painstaking days, and I never had a chance to apply it.
Conventional education and certifications, per se, are not useful if you can not apply them in real life. I have read 48 papers in my 4 years of investment in Electronics and Communication Engineering. Though I remember some of them, they never had any practical value for me. And I doubt if it would have for anyone.
Now for professionals, the industry seeks professional certifications. And they are dime a dozen. Like in programming in Java (Sun/Oracle sells many types). In Project Management, there are many, like PMP, Prince 2, Scrum, etc.
I remember my first job interview when I appeared without any educational certificate or professional course certificate. My interviewer was furious and asked "Do you think interview is a joke?” I informed that how useless I find them and importance of myself and my knowledge in the process, rather than the printed papers. And being naive and young, I also quoted Vinoba Bhave! (He put his school and college certificates in fire). You can imagine the subsequent discussion.
However, in real world, what one should do? There will be always an HR interview and HR people are very particular about certificates.
I believe one should look for something which gives true value and enriches knowledge. Like when I tried my hand at PMP, the main goal was never to pass; rather to know the practices, methodologies as I was a newbie into management, and above all, how to apply them in my daily professional life. And in the process I learned a lot. Similarly, for Sun Java technology certification, the main goal was to learn, not because I was pressured. And for that matter while going for any certification, I look forward the same way.