Lifelong Learning, The Essential Life & Career Skill

March 26, 2015 by Geoff Nixon

Why Love of Learning Matters

The Internet has changed everything.

This is not news.  However the people driving educational policy have yet to receive the memo.  Schools still insist on measuring outcomes based on knowledge, not learning goals.

In a world where knowledge is freely available and at everyone’s fingertips, the difference maker in our change-addicted world is how you absorb and apply knowledge, particularly new knowledge.

This is lifelong learning —  the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons — requires the ability to pick things up quickly, to be creative in applying new knowledge and to keep on learning.  In today’s knowledge economy, it is a required skill in almost all aspects of life.

Career-Ready Learning

For professional careers, the skills required are more than just mechanical or method-based. Now required are deep understanding, learning, adapting, collaboration, innovation, along with the abilities to identify and frame problems to be solved and work independently.

Simple clerical roles have been automated, out-sourced or have just plain disappeared. Decentralized management structures and entrepreneurship now have the decision-making process in more hands.

For trade careers, truly manual jobs are being automated or lost to cheaper overseas labor.  The skills now required are basic literacy and numeracy, the ability to engage with computers, along with lifelong learning as trades modernize and change.

Importantly, knowledge changes quickly and is increasingly specialized.  This means that the priority is the ability to learn and understand deeply once in a role.  If you are not a lifelong learner, you will soon be left behind.

Life-Ready Learning

knowledge at finger tipsFor managing life, the skills required are basic literacy (for emails, work applications, etc.), numeracy (for increasingly complex personal finance), deep understanding – choosing the right career, mortgage, etc. – and lifelong learning to adapt to new things. Lifelong learning and love of learning determine how much individuals interact with the world around them and how well they grow as individuals.

The Importance of Love of Learning

The learning stakes have been raised with knowledge now at everyone’s finger tips.  Everyone needs to develop a lifelong learning habit.  But for this habit to take root there needs to be  enthusiasm for learning new things as well as general curiosity and creativity around learning.

If learning is not thrilling, wondrous or even interesting, it is hard work indeed.

Or if learning is associated with negative sentiments — stress, failure, drudgery — love of learning will fade thereby jeopardizing success career-wise and in life.

This appears to be lost on those who drive educational policy. Schools are being forced to focus on what is measurable.  Unfortunately this doesn’t include love of learning, imagination, curiosity or creativity. Worse, the pressure of accountability in schools has meant that nurturing the love of learning has lost its place in schools as a valued goal. In fact, most of the reforms of the last 20 years have been anti-love of learning, such as:

  • High stakes testing
  • Sharp increase in homework since No Child Left Behind Act of 2003
  • Curriculum expansion that has teachers joylessly rushing through material a half inch deep and a mile wide

Children are leaving our school system at best as capable, professional students who can memorize a bunch of material they don’t really understand and then pass a test. At worst, they leave burned out and connect learning to stress and drudgery. Either way, a love of learning has almost no chance of surviving an American school career, leaving graduates ill-equipped for what lies ahead.

What Are Lifelong Learning Skills?

First of all, here’s what they are not:  being spoon-fed tiny slivers of knowledge by a teacher, memorizing that information and then passing a test on that information where you choose from one of four alternatives.

Lifelong learning is an always questioning mindset that includes these skills:

  • Self-directed learning — the ability to know what to do next to get to the right outcome
  • The ability to frame a problem correctly, which allows you to ask the right questions
  • Metacognition, the ability to think about what you are thinking, to self-correct as you go
  • To know where to find information and to filter that information
  • To think creatively about new information
  • To be a quick study, to be abl

Lifelong learners tend to be quick studies, they are good at picking things up quickly, learning new method and concepts, arguably the single most important career skill in today’s fast-moving world.

What Is Required For Lifelong Learning?

There are three levels of “education” according Dr. John Hattie, an education researcher based in Australia. Those levels are surface knowledge, deep understanding (being able to put things in context) and critical thinking, and self-directed learning.

Most educators, parents and students agree an education is about “life preparedness.” But the definition of what is required for life preparedness has changed as society has changed.

From the 1800’s to the 1980’s schools were mainly about surface knowledge. Knowledge was power (Roman saying) because it was scarce, and the results of good schooling for the select few were good grammar, good character and a broad knowledge of literature and the arts.

Since the 1980’s, education has become a necessity in all walks of life. Graduates need the capacity to understand deeply and think critically about that information. The difference makers, the next level up, are those self-directed learners who are forever curious and are able to be creative in applying that information. These are the new career-ready skill sets.

Counties have different educational goals depending on societal needs and/or system flexibility. Asia, with traditional values and need for manual labor, is still a rote learning, surface knowledge system.

Many European countries as well as Australia and New Zealand have education systems run by professional educators and have made the transition away from surface knowledge to “learning to learn” as the primary educational goal.

America unfortunately is still stuck in a surface knowledge system.

Professional educators in the USA do not have a strong voice. Instead politicians and administrators drive reform.  Given the ascendency of accountability, schools are forced to teach what can be measured, and what can be measured is surface knowledge. It’s a tail wagging the dog scenario that has had a grip on America for 20+ years.

Bottom Line: Love of Learning Should Be The Priority

A lot goes into a good relationship with learning.  In the area of testing and accountability it is increasingly falling on parents to nurture their children’s love of learning and to protect them from developing a negative relationship to learning.

Two easy things stand out in nurturing a love of learning:

  • Make sure your child has mastered the fundamentals of learning, that he or she has automaticity in reading and listening. If not, press the school for help or seek outside help in the form of learning interventions like Fast ForWord by Gemm Learning.
  • Don’t let your children stress out about the next “big” test.  The only “big tests in their careers are around their college entrance requirements. Similarly, don’t stress over “important” homework —  research suggests homework adds little positive value, certainly at elementary level, but also in middle school.