When it comes to learning (formal or informal) there are so many memories I carry with me from my early childhood.
My grandfather was my first mentor and taught me what it means to be a lifelong learner. Or, more importantly, how to enjoy learning for learning's sake.
He was an avid reader, learner and storyteller, and he approached every experience as an opportunity to grow and develop. I can clearly remember myself, eight years old, squatting down in his garden, helping him plant seeds. I'd learn about gardening and so much more: about the weather, seasons, soil, plants, and vegetables; about caring for nature; and about how we're all part of the same lifecycle.
Come to think of it, what I remember most about my grandfather (besides his gentleness, calming voice and good nature) are the countless life lessons I received from him. In the words of John Dewey, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." My "Deda" (grandfather in the Slovene language) was the perfect embodiment of that.
Fast forward many years, and I often reflect on my childhood – when the seeds of lifelong learning were sown. I think about the factors, circumstances, motivators, and mindset that contributed to that.
Becoming a Lifelong Learner
Here are the questions I often refer to when it comes to promoting, supporting and inspiring lifelong learning:
- Can anyone be a lifelong learner?
- Can you master the art of lifelong learning?
- What are some ways we can all become lifelong learners?
- Is lifelong learning connected with a specific mindset?
- Are there principles or a framework for lifelong learning?
- Do we "need" to be(come) lifelong learners?
- What are the benefits of being a lifelong learner?
- How can the principles of lifelong learning support traditional learning, in the classroom and in the workplace?
What Are Your Learning Values?
When you reflect on those questions, you might discover a lot about your attitudes toward learning, and the values you attach to it.
And that might help you to pinpoint and define the different types of motivation that drive your learning.
Which activities do you choose because they bring you pleasure, for example? When do you learn in order to improve your effectiveness or achieve key goals? And do you ever learn for a purpose bigger than yourself or your job?
Confronting Your Learning Roadblocks
You may even become aware of some generalized beliefs about learning. For example, you might realize that there are thinking patterns that hold you back from continuous learning. Or you may recall some unpleasant memories that have been preventing you from finding joy in learning new things.
Talking about unpleasant memories takes me right back to my piano lessons in primary school. I wanted to play the piano for fun, not professionally. (I knew how concert pianists lived and how hard they worked for their careers, so being a young Pogorelić wasn't what I desired for myself!) As much as I enjoyed playing Bach, Beethoven and Handel, I wanted to play contemporary music. I even wanted to learn to play the Pink Panther theme!
Unfortunately, as my teachers were keen for me to pursue a music career professionally, but I wasn't, I stopped playing entirely after 10 years, and never touched the piano again.
The Recipe for Learning Success
Lifelong learning is not rocket science. It doesn't need to be perfect and polished. There are, however, two decisive factors that we need to consider when it comes to the success of lifelong learning.
As every good chef will tell you, without salt and pepper, any dish might fail. So, what are the salt and pepper of lifelong learning?
The Salt: Motivation
Not just any type of motivation, though: it's intrinsic motivation that plays a crucial role in any learning. It comes down to the reasons why we do the things that we do. Is it because of the outcome and the results we expect (extrinsic motivation) or because of our interest and enjoyment in the task itself (intrinsic motivation)?
When our actions stem from intrinsic motivation, we learn because of the joy of learning. We enjoy expanding our knowledge and skills and broadening our views. Our purpose for learning is enjoyment, growth, curiosity, self-expression, and fun – not getting good grades, winning prizes, or receiving perks.
When we're motivated by non-material benefits – the sheer joy of learning, any time, any place, and by our own choice – then we're also influencing our learning capacity. If we look at our children and their desire and need to learn daily – be it their first steps, first words, eating with a spoon, walking up and down the stairs, exploring the world around them – we can see that their desire to learn is unstoppable and insatiable. In fact, children have a "fluid" capacity for learning, otherwise known as a growth mindset.
As we grow older and our lives become more intertwined with formal learning and acquiring new skills on demand, our mindset can become fixed. We begin to believe that we've reached the limit of our creativity and skills. We may have become tired of formal, institutionalized learning, or might think that there's simply nothing left to learn (in terms of accredited/certified learning).
Perhaps Albert Einstein worded it better: "Once you stop learning, you start dying."
The Pepper: Mindset
"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong."Bente Elkjaer, professor at the Danish School of Education
More than anything else we must embrace all opportunities to learn. Not all knowledge lies in books, nor does all learning happen in the classroom. There are small changes in your thinking that will have an impact. I practice these simple tricks with my students regularly.
For example, replace "I'm not smart" with "I'm really smart when it comes to _________."
Instead of saying "I don't like challenges" say "Overcoming challenges makes me grow."
Change "I don't know how" to "I can learn."
Reframe "I give up" to "I can't succeed if I don't try."
Add to these a few simple personalized goals:
- Lifelong learning is your responsibility.
- Identify your learning style and adapt your approach to suit your individual needs.
- Try new things regularly.
- Ask (many) questions.
- Find a mentor and become a mentor to others.
- Start or join a learning group or find an accountability partner.
- Put your knowledge and skills into practice (whenever possible).
- Keep a record of your learning journey.
- Take advantage of tools, technologies and digital spaces that support learning.
Oh, and don't forget to have fun!
#MTtalk Roundup: The Art of Lifelong Learning
During Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed why it's important to be a lifelong learner; why you want to keep on learning; and how to accomplish it. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:
Q1. Is lifelong learning a state of mind, an art, or a matter of chance? Please explain.
@JennaDrei I think it's a state of mind! Anyone who is open to new things is always learning and taking lessons from them!
@BrainBlenderTec It's a matter of acceptance. Every moment can be one of learning if you are open to it.
@Midgie_MT Lifelong learning is both a state of mind and an art. It is about having an attitude of curiosity and questioning, exploring and discovering. The approach that [some]one takes towards their learning may be an art form in how they do their learning.
Q2. What did you most value from required/formal learning in school and at work?
@jaxgaither I valued the experiences I was given and learning from other people's ideas. It was cool to see others' thoughts in different subjects.
@MikeB_MT I'm a believer in "perspective by incongruity" (I think that's a Kenneth Burke construct). Always bringing ideas from other disciplines and industries into my work, combining what feels like two disparate ideas, trying to create something new and fresh.
Q3. What was of least value from your required/formal learning at school and work?
@NWarind Learning has a value, and if learned well, the value will be ever increasing.
@ZalaB_MT Learning by memorizing. I know that some studies require it – medicine or law, but not all. I "hated" memorizing theories that were not "put into practice". It's just words, with no context or substance.
Q4. In your experience, what or who has been an unexpected source of learning?
@CaptRajeshwar Villagers supplying milk to a cooperative dairy. They knew more than what we learned about technology: fat, rates, mixing, difference of test in time gap, etc. Never take a ground man lightly; they know more than you studied.
@J_Stephens_CPA As I wrap up the formal philosophy side of ethics, I'm looking forward to looking at more of the professional side of ethics again.
Q5. What would you most like to learn now, at this stage in your life/career?
@KarinnaSimmons I want to learn a new language! Being a polyglot is on my bucket list.
@gabrielle_lohr I would like to set aside some more time for myself outside of my career & dive into the art of French cooking!
Q6. How could learning unrelated skills from unrelated industries/roles benefit you?
@ColfaxInsurance (Alyx) Even if it feels unrelated, the skills you learn can easily translate to your career and other aspects of your life! Over the past couple years I learned how to incubate chicken eggs, which also taught me patience, and boy is that handy for everything!
@SarahH_MT I love how learning something unrelated to my work can spark more creativity in me. And it's amazing how seemingly unrelated skills are super-transferable to other areas.
Q7. What non-traditional methods of learning have you tried?
@Yolande_MT One method of learning that has served me well is to commit to doing something I know nothing about – and then to start learning and applying at a furious pace. It gives me immense satisfaction. (This Twitter chat falls in that category...)
@CaptRajeshwar Worked in organization as a hidden worker to know the tricks, gaps, road blocks, igniters, catalysts... It solved most of the issues.
Q8. What are some of the rewards of being a lifelong learner?
@gabrielle_lohr The biggest reward is constant growth. Every time you learn, you're adding more knowledge to the database inside your mind! Without lifelong learning, you miss out on new ideas, methods & innovations.
@KarinnaSimmons Keeping your brain active to help prevent any memory loss! It's something I think about often and try to practice every day. Yay, brain health!
Q9. What are some good tips to apply lifelong learning in our life/work?
@jaxgaither Be curious! You never know what you'll find if you don't question things.
@Midgie_MT Simple tip... make regular time in your diary for the learning to take place. Also, make a plan if you have a specific objective or goal to be achieved (like a date when I am going to Italy this summer!)
Q10. How will you encourage others to become lifelong learners?
@SoniaH_MT To encourage others to become lifelong learners, I will keep asking, "why?" This will help us all to learn by seeking answers and debunking myths or inaccuracies.
@NWarind By telling your story with the aspect of teaching.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Coming Up: Food and Work
Lifelong learning opens up opportunities to gain new and unexpected knowledge. When we add food to the activity, we gain a chance to bond, learn and accept. Next time on #MTtalk we're going to discuss how to build community and culture in the workplace through food. In our Twitter poll this week we'd like to know how you feel when there's food at work and you're invited to eat.
"The Art of Lifelong Learning" Resources
Note that you'll need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.
How to Boost Your Self-Motivation Video
Building Expert Power
How to Create a Personal Learning Plan
Journaling for Professional Development
Five Moments of Learning Need Video
Never Stop Learning
Gagné's Nine Levels of Learning
The Learning Zone Model
The Five Elements of Effective Thinking
How to Learn From Your Mistakes