Take a moment to think back to when you were a child. Everything was new: your first taste of ice cream, your pride at learning how to spell your name, the perplexity you felt when you saw a strange-looking insect. You were curious, and you wanted answers to all your questions. Children take delight in learning, in exploring what their minds can do and the places they can go just by thinking.
Our curiosity and delight in learning should never leave us, but we often find that it does. We have busy lives, lots of responsibilities and we find our time taken up by repetitive tasks. What room is left in our minds for learning? What mental space can we set aside to thinking about something new?
The good news is that we’re all lifelong learners. Keeping up with innovations and developments in digital technology forces us to learn new things. After all, much of our lives are spent using digital technology.
Learning in our Daily Lives
In different contexts, we access information from various resources, use prior knowledge in new situations and decide and follow through on a course of action. This means we can be self-directed – a hallmark of the perpetual learner.
Think about it this way: you have an idea for how you want to spend an evening, perhaps you decide on dinner and a movie. So you use several digital technologies to organise your night, and follow through on that plan. You use a variety of sources in the planning process – a GPS app, a restaurant review site and a cinema site to find film times and purchase tickets. You’ll then use another device to implement that plan.
So, even in our daily lives, we exhibit the traits of lifelong learners.
Hallmarks of Perpetual Learners
- effective communication
- complex thinking
- engaging in collaboration
- being willing to take risks and make mistakes
- being creative
- being reflective
Effective communication involves being able to express yourself clearly and concisely. It also means listening carefully and responding to others.
We might take this set of behaviours for granted, but if you pay attention to them, you’ll realise they’re not as easy to achieve as you might think. When someone else is speaking, are you just thinking about what you want to say next or are you listening to what’s being said?
Stopping to reflect on what we do every day is itself a feature of a lifelong learner.
We may think we’re too busy for this, but we actually do it every day. Perhaps you’ll be thinking about how a particular meeting went on the drive home from work, or whether what you said to a colleague was sufficiently clear. Paying attention to that process is a part of being open to new ideas.
Be Open to New Ideas
Being open to new ideas, in turn, involves being willing to take risks and make mistakes.
Much of collective human learning has come about through the process of risk taking and a willingness to make mistakes. After all, when something doesn’t work, we tend to want to figure out how and why, so we can improve it. Learning is often much deeper and long lasting when it follows on the heels of error.
Figuring out how to solve a problem or fix an error typically requires complex thought and complex thought typically requires creativity. When we construct or derive meaning, make decisions and engage in evaluation, we use a number of reasoning strategies, including analysing and synthesising information.
The benefits of lifelong learning are numerous. Staying engaged with the world becomes increasingly important as we age, for example, not only because it inspires us, but also because it keeps us cognitively sharp. And the more we learn, the more there is for us to share.