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Lifelong learning: the matter of learning to learn


I once asked a group of teachers in a workshop on teaching skills, “Are you learning anything?” And to my surprise, NOBODY SAID YES. When I continued why, most of them said they had no time. The reason, which I found out only later, was that they thought learning something meant learning it formally in a lengthy course, but they didn’t have enough time for it.


That reminds me of one of the Cambridge Life Competencies, which is Learning to learn. It is true that, at some point of time in our lives, we did want to learn something, but we didn’t know what that “something” was. When we found out what we wanted to learn, we then didn’t have time to learn it. That’s the problem! How can we deal with it?


Lifelong learning is the answer.

Generally, lifelong learning is a form of self-initiated education focusing on personal or professional development.

Characteristics of Lifelong learning


Self-initiation: lifelong learners initiate learning by themselves, not forced by anyone. They feel like learning, getting updated to self-develop.


Continuity: the name itself says all about this second feature. This type of learning can happen at any time in your life in any formal or informal forms from self-reflection, experience, failures, success of your own or others', from reading books to attending online classes, which is very popular now thanks to the COVID-19.


Self-motivation: lifelong learners have their own motivations to learn, both intrinsic and extrinsic. The former includes the desire to widen their knowledge about the world, to upskill, or to improve their personal branding. The latter can be for professional promotion, to change job, or even just to get a pay raise.


A perfect exemplar of a lifelong learner is the great US president Abraham Lincoln. Born into a poor family, Abraham didn’t have enough education, and his father only wanted him to become a skillful farmer, which he did. However, his burning desire to learn never stopped and he loved reading. They said he finished all his neighbors’ books in the village. He used to walk 10 kilometers to borrow a book and when he got home, he finished nearly half of it. Abraham wanted to become a lawyer but he couldn’t afford to study it until he met a local judge who gave him all of his law books to self-learn and became a lawyer later. When in the White House during the Civil War, in order to maintain the unification of the country, he self-learned to become the Commander, who led the northern states to victory. Abraham’s life was a typical example of lifelong learning. He started his learning by himself and continuously did it throughout his life, motivated by his own dreams for his country and people.


What can lifelong learning bring to us?


Opportunities for us to set our life goals and objectives. Without lifelong learning, we won’t know our motivations and purpose of living. Our lives will then be a repeated flow of 9 to 5 every single day.


Capability for knowledge update. Without lifelong learning, we aren’t able to learn and upskill to effectively face the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world that we're living in, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Skilled personnel. Without lifelong learning, businesses will get hurt due to the lack of quality personnel who can help them overcome the difficulties. This can negatively affect the global economic status.


In summary, it can be said that lifelong learning not only helps us improve personally but also maintains a stable economy and develops human beings on a global scale.


How can you improve your lifelong learning?


Develop your growth mindset. That's the first thing to do. With a growth mindset, you will believe strongly that you can improve yourself by learning. You will also believe that you can learn from any experiences in your life, which can be more valuable than any school lessons.


Improve your learning-to-learn skills. In a rapid-growing society like ours today, anything you learned yesterday can become outdated today. The American futurist Alvin Toffler said in his book Future Shock,

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

We need to learn how to unlearn old ideas, habits, methods, etc. that we already learned but can prevent us from learning something newer, better, and more efficient in our current situation. Unlearning something is not easy, especially for experienced people, who tend to use their experience to challenge new ideas or methods. Two big names from the past that you may know - KODAK and NOKIA - can be seen as typical examples of experienced people who failed to unlearn.


Plan your learning. Nothing can be done without planning. Answer the following questions to help you plan your learning.

  • Step 1, you need to identify your goal and purpose of learning. What you need to learn and why you need to learn it? Do you have any motivation for it?

  • Step 2, when and where you will learn it? At school or at home? Online or offline? When to start and when it finishes?

  • Step 3, how do you get time and effort for your learning? What is the plan for your current work and your family? Without planning for this, you may never finish your learning.

  • Step 4, how will you apply the knowledge or skills you learn? Will what you get from the course be applied to any of your future plans? If this is not clear, go back to step 1 to re-identify your goals.


Conclusion


Lifelong learning is KEY to people's development, and learning to learn is our KEY to live in the current VUCA world.

Each of us is a natural lifelong learner. The thing that matters is how we can become effective lifelong learners to improve ourselves and improve the world we’re living in. Remember to enhance your growth mindset, learn how to learn, unlearn, and relearn, and set up a thorough plan for your continuous learning.

Each of us is a natural lifelong learner. The thing that matters is how we can become effective lifelong learners to improve ourselves and improve the world we’re living in. Remember to enhance your growth mindset, learn how to learn, unlearn, and relearn, and set up a thorough plan for your continuous learning.

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