Over the past few decades, I have seen the pace of the world increase to such an extent that all those wonderfully impossible things that I had read about in science fiction books were beginning to come true! I wanted a Dick Tracey watch … Apple made them. I wanted a Personal Access Data Device like they had on Star Trek … now I have a tablet. I wanted a Universal Translator so I could speak in Klingon … Google invented one. Now all I need is a Transporter (teleportation device) and I wouldn’t have to endure being cooped up in a cylinder with other people to get anywhere.
Yes, the world is changing at a phenomenal rate. It is said that the amount of knowledge in the world doubles every eighteen months! How do we keep up with that? How do we learn all this new knowledge? Well, the trick is not to try to learn it all but to know where you can find this information.
This is where the concept of “life-long learning” comes into play; encouraging people to seek knowledge, question everything and develop a habit of self-directed learning. The challenge is to encourage people to want to learn. How do we entice people to embrace learning? We make it meaningful to them. How do we make learning meaningful in an adult context? It must be relevant to the individual. It must be learning with which they can identify, either in a work or a personal context. This is known as “holistic learning”, where the information fits into a bigger framework of knowledge.
LEARNING NEEDS TO BE REWARDING
What’s in it for the learner? Is it just a curiosity that has been satisfied, or is it more mercenary than that? Will this increase their employment prospects? Will they get a pay rise? Why do you want to learn?
Learning is best achieved when it is built on a solid foundation of experience so that the learner can put these new ideas into context within that experience.
This helps to reinforce the information that has been learnt (think of it as the Sara Lee Learning Method – layer, upon layer, upon layer). The learning must be delivered in a way that the learner can understand. This is where it becomes important to know about learning styles – visual, auditory, tactile, theoretical, solitary, collaborative, dependent or self-paced. Multi-sensory learning allow the learner to experience their learning at a much deeper level, forming strong reinforced pathways within the brain. And finally, learning must be practiced! This will strengthen these pathways even more.
Consider the different ways to practice or engage in activities that foster a habit of life-long learning. Here are some ways to enhance your ability to be a life-long learner:
BE OPEN TO THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOU CAN LEARN
Some things may be difficult and may take longer than others but, given enough time, we can learn to do anything we want – we just have to be open to embracing the possibility of learning. Having a closed mindset and deciding that you will never be able to learn is a sure recipe for failure. Perhaps you need to do some introductory training before you begin on your learning pathway, to lay some solid foundations.
HAVE A GOAL
Know why you are learning and where this new knowledge can take you. Set realistic short-term goals that build towards a bigger goal. Remember, you can’t eat an elephant in one sitting. You have to keep coming back and taking little bites!
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR LEARNING
Don’t blame bad teachers for not teaching you. Instead, do some research to help build on your knowledge base. Seek experienced mentors who can steer your learning in the right direction.
Don’t make your learning too easy as you will not gain the same level of satisfaction that you would receive if you had to work hard for what you wanted.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
You are an intelligent human being so there is no reason why you shouldn’t study any subject that interests you.
DEVELOP YOUR OWN LEARNING ROUTINE AND STICK TO IT
Decide the best time of day for you to absorb knowledge. Surround yourself with things that help you to concentrate like soft music, a comfortable chair, good lighting, plenty of fluids and healthy nibbles.
USE THE RIGHT TOOLS
Use the tools that are most appropriate for the job and with which you are most comfortable. If you like taking notes by hand then use your favourite coloured pen or colour code your notes. If you prefer typing, use a font that inspires you. Make your learning fun.
JOIN A STUDY GROUP
Either online or in person. Bouncing ideas off other people and discussing issues that arise within your studies will help you to find the best answers. Talking about your learning experience will also help it to sink in.
DON’T OVERDO IT
Timetable your study sessions and get plenty of fresh air and exercise in between, to allow that new information to transfer into your long-term memory.
There is no such thing as a stupid question – only stupid answers because the research hasn’t been carried out correctly.
LEARN HOW TO THINK
Develop critical thinking skills. Keep drilling down into the question by asking “why” until you get the answer that you understand. Think laterally.
PRACTICE NEW SKILLS
Developing muscle memory means that you don’t have to consciously think about how to perform your new skill.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Learn something new every day like the meaning of an obscure word, the words to that song that you keep getting wrong or an interesting factoid that might come in handy to break the ice at parties.
Acknowledge the milestones as they pass and reward yourself for a job well done. You know that you have earned it!
So, what happened when I finished school? I kept learning. I learnt how to drive a car. I learnt how to cook and decorate cakes. I learnt how to fly an aeroplane. I learnt how to raise children (the hard way!). I learnt a lot of other things as well. I learnt what was over the horizon. I learnt why the star don’t fall out of the sky. I’m still learning what cats think about and why colour is so special. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t learn something from my students. I never stop learning and do you know why? Learning is exciting!
Written by Helen Ladewig, LTSA Training Manager