Lifelong learning has received significant attention in recent times as it has been discussed, debated and written about by the government, educational institutions and Pearson too. My connection with lifelong learning is a personal one; it was formed quite early on, much before I had heard the exact words or understood the context.
I was around 13 years old and I distinctly remember a cold winter morning when my grandfather woke me up at 4am, like he always did, with a hot cup of tea. I woke up, reluctantly questioning the need to be up so early, when I had another 4 hours or so before I needed to go to school. He simply said:
”You will finish school one day but you will always remain a student so it’s important to start early and make time to learn.”
But I was not convinced with his explanation. I thought that surely I am going to finish my education at some point and I will no longer be a student, so this won’t be relevant any longer.
Despite our differences of opinion on this matter, he continued waking me up at 4am almost every day for the following 10 years of my school life, always with a cup of tea. Decades later I have found the true meaning of his wise words: my grandfather was passionate about education and he was keen that I made the most of the learning opportunities in life by becoming a lifelong learner.
Lifelong learning could mean so many different things to different people and that’s precisely what fascinates me when I think about lifelong learning. It is as relevant to someone in their seventies learning to play a musical instrument as it is to an ambitious professional learning a new skill. And anything in between.
Learning can be fun and enjoyable, something that breaks up the routine, as well as helping us meet new people and reinvent ourselves. However learning could be an uncomfortable experience too, as there is an emotional aspect of learning along with the intellectual and behavioural one, as discussed in Peter Bregman’s article.
It is this emotional aspect of learning which is not acknowledged enough and can cause significant distress. Support from friends, family and colleagues helps us deal with the emotional upheaval, however learning is also about being comfortable in accepting that you are not an expert. In fact, being a student is a great position to be in as you can ask questions, be curious and make mistakes… It is difficult to have the same freedom in your day job, especially when you are viewed as an expert.
Lifelong learning is relevant across different sectors and industries, however, it is especially pertinent in education. Educators delivering teaching and learning, who are perceived as experts, need to reverse roles and become students to learn new skills and, most importantly, empathise and understand the student journey. This pursuit of learning will encourage experienced educators to discover skills which, according to this article published the World Economic Forum, is the ‘new currency’. It also highlights that learning goes beyond content and knowledge, therefore ‘experience and application’ is crucial, especially in the workplace.
Taking a macro view of learning makes me philosophical as I draw parallels between learning and travelling. Most of us love travelling to places we have never been to but we also enjoy going back to some destinations over and over again. I believe learning is similar as we could choose to learn something new: something we have never done before or something that we learnt in the past but would like to revisit to keep up with the changes or explore new aspects of the subject.
The best part about travelling is the unexpected experiences: a wrong turn which takes you to a street bustling with a local market or a restaurant frequented by locals (offering a more authentic experience than the ones which are very ‘touristy’) , meeting strangers who have the most amazing stories. Some unpleasant experiences are unexpected, but that’s what makes travel interesting. Similarly, when you are on a learning journey you could have unexpected experiences; either discovering something about yourself, meeting new people or perhaps taking a different career path.
One way to become a lifelong learner is by making learning a habit. It certainly is a lot harder in the beginning but does get it easier, as Charles Duhigg explains in his fascinating book ‘The Power of Habit.’ The book contains a range of examples which discuss the importance of developing ‘keystone habits’ which have a far-reaching impact on different aspects of your life.
To explain how keystone habits would work I would like to share a couple of examples. For instance, if you get into the habit of either reading regularly (this could be short articles to begin with) or listening to podcasts about something you want to learn, these new routines may shape other aspects of your life. You might also start waking up earlier or use your commute or lunch hour more effectively. These small changes could have a compounding effect on your approach to learning and investing in yourself.
Any time is a good time to begin your learning journey or just continue if you have already started, as according to Issac Assimov: “Education isn’t something you can finish.”