In the Economist’s mid-January issue, the cover page article was titled “Lifelong Learning” with the subtitle “It is easy to say that people need to keep learning throughout their careers. The practicalities are daunting”. They highlighted the importance of this topic by including a 16 page special report called “Learning and earning – lifelong education”.
So why should learning throughout life be considered daunting? What are some of the obstacles and what are some of the incentives and benefits that come with life-long learning?
For many people, their recollection of learning, is rarely a positive experience. At best they may remember a subject that they loved, one that brought them inside ‘its world’ and that enriched their world, in turn. Few people carry a wholesale love of learning that stretches across many subjects and memories of happy engagement in the learning process.
Traditional learning is a blueprint that we are all familiar with, by learning ‘about’ a subject at school, at university or in training programs. These experiences often conjure up images of people talking at us, poring over books, exams and a strong sense of labor … but not many memories of much fun and excitement!
Learning however, is of major importance in our evolution. We are essentially ‘built to learn’, and are inherently motivated to learn, as we are naturally equipped with a broad range of senses and faculties to aid us in this endeavor. However, although learning itself is an instinctive ‘given’ driver, the skill and capability of ‘effective learning’ is not a ‘given’; it has to be learned and developed. And who for instance –
- Has ever had instruction in the best ways and means and methods of learning, to have a chance of consciously developing ‘best quality learning’ as a capability in themselves?
- Or who has ever been instructed / educated about how to learn and extract the wisdom from each and every opportunity available?
- Or who is aware and knows what their personal preferred learning style(s) are?
Certainly, for those who get the chance to research a subject and be in the ‘live’ end of learning, there is a different experience. That is why in the learning and development space, much is made of ‘experiential learning’ because it is recognized that it is by far, the most powerful way to learn. But learning or absorbing what others have ‘arrived at’ – whether by reading, listening, viewing or via a combination of the currently popular ‘e-learning’ is to know about someone else’s views – without the opportunity of one’s own personal experience. Purely mental knowledge is not always learning in the way of ‘knowing’.
In his seminal work ‘Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development’ David Kolb theorized that four combinations of perceiving and processing make up a complete learning cycle, based upon an initial experience. Kolb created his famous experiential learning cycle model out of these four elements, namely –
- Concrete experience,
- Observation and reflection,
- The formation of abstract concepts and
- Testing the ‘abstract concepts’ in new situations.
All of these require the individual to be in the experience – to have felt with their whole selves, body, mind and spirit something, to reflect on the experience in the kinaesthetic, sensory and mental self, to form their personal ideas and models from it and finally, to be able to re-apply themselves in new situations with the conglomerate wisdom or learning they have gleaned from their experience.
Instead of this process being daunting, it is the pinnacle of human experience, the ability to live, think and create from the experience of living. Learning is to be welcomed if its approached from this vibrant standpoint – the opportunity to continue to learn whilst one lives is to continue to grow and not die.
6 February 2017