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Motivate students to constantly seek new learning experiences

By Antoney Luvinzu | July 3rd 2021

Engaging in lifelong learning builds your professional networks. [Courtesy]

There is more that we do not know than we know. We can never learn enough. And learning has no destination, no endpoint. It is a continuous process. What you need are the requisite skills to acquire knowledge, and the right attitude to keep learning.  

Scientifically speaking, in relation to the age of the universe, our existence as human beings is equal to just another infinitesimally small grain among the countless grains of sands in an hourglass. The time spent in school and college–ostensibly to learn–is literally nothing compared to what is actually out there to learn.

The knowledge out there that is waiting to be discovered and gained is so much that even hundreds of lifetimes might not be enough, let alone one. The least we could do, therefore, is dedicate the one life that we have to become lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning is the provision and usage of both formal and informal learning opportunities in a continuously supportive process that stimulates and empowers individuals to acquire all the knowledge, values, skills and understanding they will require throughout their lifetimes, and to apply them with confidence, creativity, effectiveness and enjoyment in all roles, circumstances, and environments.

So what exactly does it mean to be a lifelong learner? In the most basic terms, a lifelong learner is someone who keeps acquiring new knowledge, skills and capabilities well past their formal education years. It involves not only studying new topics, but also developing an open-minded, positive attitude about the dynamic nature of the world.

In the 21st century, it behoves our schools and educators to equip learners with such fundamental skills. Becoming a seeker of lifelong learning is critical in today’s fast-changing world. Learning is not only a matter of absorbing information, but a process of developing many other internal skills, like curiosity, perseverance, and the ability to tackle challenges.

Lifelong learning is a broad term, and there are many different ways we could continue adding to our children’s knowledge. Some examples of lifelong learning include: internships and apprenticeships, vocational courses, teaching children a new language, helping them study a new subject, teaching them to use new pieces of technology, playing a new game or sport, knowledge mastering and learning behaviours from their environment.

 Thinking skills has critical thinking, creativity and transfer, et cetera. [Courtesy]

Lifelong learning can be conducted in a variety of ways, whether it’s through formal/informal instruction in school, or something far less structured or, even, any form of self-taught learning. And all these can be achieved through acquisition of core skills like communication skills, social skills, self-management skills, research skills and thinking skills. The International Baccalaureate terms these as the Approaches to Learning skills, and they do have clusters. For instance, under research skills, there is information literacy and media literacy. Thinking skills has critical thinking, creativity and transfer, et cetera. 

Career trajectories

A lot of important figures throughout history have practiced and emphasised on the importance of adopting lifelong learning and its benefits. Brian Tracy, a Canadian-American motivational public speaker, and self-development author, aptly avers; “Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.” As industries and the nature of work continue to evolve, career trajectories are becoming more dynamic and less predictable.

Dr Kris Rabberman, assistant vice dean and Director of Academic Affairs for Professional and Liberal Education in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, says; “lifelong learning is now seen as essential for individuals, organisations, and nations to stay competitive. There is a growing sense now that people will need to have access to education throughout their lives, not just for one or two predetermined periods.”

Lifelong learning is extremely important in the development of a child’s mind. Research shows adopting lifelong learning has positive effects on brain cells and improves mental sharpness. Better mental health leads to longer life expectancy; then comes passion, self-development, and a feeling of satisfaction. No matter how strong or powerful we become, we are humans after all. To become strong and powerful in the first place, we need to keep on learning new things.

The added benefit of this habit is the feeling of doing something worthwhile while you are alive. Time spent learning is never a waste. Whatever knowledge you gain will help you in one way or another sometime in the future, distant, if not near.

Another important reason that, tacitly, does not leave us without any option but to build lifelong learning skills is the constant progressing world that we live in. The rate at which the world is changing in terms of technology is incredibly swift. Everything is rapidly shifting towards advanced technology and artificial intelligence. Considering the pace and trajectory at which the world is advancing, it has become imperative to adopt lifelong learning now more than ever; and the earlier one develops this habit, the better. Not only would it help in being at par with the ever-changing dynamics in one’s field, but it also opens doors to a plethora of opportunities and a forever-growing career.

For most students who decide to further their education, the primary motivation is professional. “Typically, adult students are looking to advance in their current place of employment or to change their career,” says Ursula Bechert, University of Pennsylvania’s Director of Graduate Programmes, College of Liberal and Professional Studies. Engaging in lifelong learning not only helps you stay vital and competitive in the labour market, it builds your professional network as well, Dr Ursula notes.

And if none of these apply, one thing that lifelong learning is useful for is killing idleness; an enemy! Once one develops the habit of learning new things every now and then, they can never get bored, or worse, be idle. There is always going to be something out there for them to discover and know more about.

Culture of learning

Today’s generation will decide what the future will be like. Whether it will make it or break it depends solely on what it does today. To ensure that it helps in improving it and taking it to newer heights, it is absolutely necessary to incorporate a culture and tradition of lifelong learning in our learning institutions from an early age. Once introduced, the next step facing us is encouraging learners to delve deeper into it, pursue it, and stick to it; this is possible if educators and parents/guardians can exemplify this quality.

Today’s generation will decide what the future will be like. [Courtesy]

Enlighten students on why adopting lifelong learning is beneficial, and how it is going to help them in every phase of their lives. Once they understand its importance and are ready to develop the habit, guide and help them to develop the habit. Learners need to dedicate time for conscious learning, to use scraps of time, where they don’t know what to do, to do something productive. Take them to libraries, seminars, workshops, symposiums, concerts, colloquiums, educational fairs, and other places where they would find an abundance of knowledge.

Needless to say, nowadays, knowledge is available at the tip of our fingertips, courtesy of the Internet. There are a plethora of options to choose from that are out there sharing their knowledge with us. Media and information literacy is crucial in this regard to enable us sift through the avalanche of information out there. Numerous websites provide tons of information about any kind of topic that one can think of, and there are resources that offer a wide range of interactive lectures, webinars, and online courses, and many of them for free.

As important as it is to be aware of the need and benefits of adopting lifelong learning, equally important is to maintain the habit. The best way to help our children become dedicated lifelong learners is to learn with them. Children don’t always readily do as they are told; they do what they see. And when you learn together, the process will not only become easier, but also extremely enjoyable. In short, never stop learning because life never stops teaching.

Taking the case of Finland, which has one of the best education systems in the world, policy frameworks and clear-cut objectives for lifelong learning (LLL) have been set in the Finnish governmental programmes for more than a decade. Each government has had its own development plan for education, and each new government continues the policy work of the previous governments by further strengthening the role of LLL.

According to the analysis of governmental education policy documents, LLL is considered holistically in Finland. The lifelong learning viewpoint is systematically integrated into education policy and other policy sectors relating to education and training. According to the holistic approach, LLL is a programme that starts from a person’s early years and continues throughout one’s whole life-course. Lifelong learning is integrated at all levels of the educational system, both in the academic and vocational educational tracks.

Equity and flexibility

A holistic approach considers both formal and informal learning. Moreover, the analysis revealed that the Finnish LLL policy has three main principles that guide activities throughout the educational system: Equity, flexibility and a high level of education for the whole population. Lifelong learning in pre-school, comprehensive school, general upper secondary school, vocational school and university education is found in an all-inclusive way in the Finnish education system.

Media and information literacy is crucial in this regard to enable us sift through the avalanche of information out there. [Courtesy]

The world today is completely different from what it used to be. It has a lot to offer but it depends on how we take it. And looking at where it’s headed, adopting the habit of lifelong learning seems imperative. However hard and daunting it might look at first, becoming a lifelong learner or encouraging someone to become one isn’t that difficult. All it needs is a sincere and determined push at the start, perseverance, and dedication. And once it develops into a habit, it then becomes impossible to let go of it.

For all this world has given us, dedicating our lives to becoming lifelong learners is the least we could do.

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