A life sentence might sound pretty onerous and negative. But so can the notion of “learning for life”.
It’s something that we may pay lip service to but do we actually do it?
To what extent do we deliberately focus on building skills beyond initial education, postgraduate studies and training unless we are changing career?
Continuing professional development (CPD) may encourage us to keep learning and keep up-to-date with our industry but with so many of us working freelance or building a portfolio career there isn’t necessarily any obligation to keep learning or developing unless we are aware of the need to do this ourselves.
Our world is changing around us in such a frantic pace that if we do not continue to grow and develop; we will soon be left behind. In the 21st century, we all need to be lifelong learners.
We need to continually keep our skills sharp and up to date so that we have an edge in all that we do. We all have a natural desire to learn anyway because we need to for adapting to change and for enriching and fulfilling our lives.
In his book Drive, author Dan Pink argues that we need three things to feel motivated about, and satisfied with, our life: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Becoming a lifelong learner fulfills all three of these psychological needs and there’s a direct correlation between individuals who strive for growth in their personal lives and those who thrive in their professional lives.
In the 21st century, we all need to be lifelong learners.
Pursuit of knowledge is easier than it has ever been before – all the technological advances relay information instantaneously to our fingertips.
It's a modern day privilege to take this convenience and utilise it in productive ways. Yet it’s also technology that can be a major distraction when it comes to lifelong learning because we also need to hone our ability to focus.
"Hectic and overflowing schedules"
Many people may think with their hectic and already overflowing schedules there is simply no extra time to learn anything more than what is absolutely necessary to get through the everyday life.
It may just seem that we have too much on our plates already without adding more things to our ‘to-do’ list.
Yet we are spending 23 hours every week texting and on social media. Imagine spending that time every week on learning more about changes in your industry or your personal enrichment.
- Learning across a wide range of subjects gives us a range of perspectives to call on in our own narrow day-to-day areas of specialisation.
- Learning helps us more easily and readily adapt to new situations.
- A broad knowledge of unfamiliar situations feeds innovation by inspiring us to think creatively and providing examples to follow.
- Learning deepens our character and makes us more inspiring to those around us.
- Learning makes us more confident.
- Learning instills an understanding of the historical, social, and natural processes that impact and limit our lives.
Perhaps lifelong learning simply starts with cultivating an open attitude to life and to new information.
Allowing ourselves to be challenged by views and opinions very different to our own. Finding time to read more, whether it is a new book or following a blog but scheduling that time like we would anything else.
Commutes are a good opportunity to watch downloaded TED talks or podcasts.
Taking part in community activities from singing in a choir to volunteering at a local homeless shelter are brilliant for opening up the mind and expanding the comfort zone.
Most of all it is about choosing to make the time for lifelong learning without the discipline of a requirement imposed on us to do so.
The motivation to learn, and learn for life, comes from within and means being willing to have our minds changed and being willing to schedule learning time. Make learning something new part of your everyday.
About Emma Sue Prince
Emma Sue is author of The Advantage – the 7 key soft skills you need to get ahead published by Pearson Business. She has designed an experiential learning workshop based on these skills: adaptability, empathy, integrity, optimism, being proactive, critical thinking and resilience and is currently licensing trainers to deliver these.
Emma Sue provides consultancy in emerging economies and travels regularly to India, Bangladesh and Tanzania advising on a range of large funded projects. She runs a free membership site – Unimenta – for practitioners working in soft skills. When not working Emma Sue runs a local gospel choir in her home town of Godalming, Surrey and is an avid baker.