Lately we have been hearing about the importance of being a “lifelong learner.” What are this concept and how does one go about it? In this article I'll explain some general ideas about what a lifelong learner entails.
Lifestyles of lifelong learners are characterized by flexibility, interest, creativity, critical thinking, responsibility, perseverance, participation, and ownership. These traits are a product of being grounded in formal education, liberal arts, technical training, cultural diversity, interpersonal communications, and work experience. In addition, lifelong learners usually engage their minds in the dynamic activity of learning new things, which results in new and inventive ways of approaching problems, as well as ways of learning from others. As such, it not only boosts social participation, engagement, and personal productivity, but self-sustainability as well, and promotes competitive and employability in the workplace.
One reason why I would describe a lifelong learner as someone who is flexible is because he or she has an innate capacity for flexible learning. Such an individual grows up with formal learning opportunities, but chooses to pursue other informal ones throughout their life, and perhaps even prior to formal schooling. The result is an accumulation of non-formal education, which includes experiences that range from the traditional classroom environment of learning to community education, workshop settings, informal work experience, or other non-formal education platforms designed to promote cross-curricular understanding across the curriculum spectrum. This kind of flexible learning allows students to cultivate a capacity for critical thinking that can be leveraged in the workplace, as they apply knowledge acquired in school to the workplace setting.
Another aspect related to being a lifelong learner is the ability to rapidly acquire new skills. Such an individual moves from formal learning opportunities, such as classroom instruction, to informal settings, such as learning through working with peers, on the job training, or doing real world experiences. Such a person, as we have seen above, has an innate capacity for flexible skill acquisition and will learn more in an informal setting than in a classroom environment, because they were able to apply what they learned in school to their new environment.
Finally, we must address the fact that many people learn better when they are taught as a discipline rather than just one skill. This is especially true of professionals, who need to learn a variety of disciplines across their careers. The same is true of lifelong learners. When you consider what career options open up to such people, you realize that lifelong learning opportunities tend to be narrower than those of most professionals. In other words, most professionals have at least one skill required to carry out their job responsibilities. For most professionals, that skill is a specialized level of instruction that serves as the vehicle for imparting that skill to others.
For the purposes of this discussion, we have not explored all the possible combinations of informal learning with formal learning. Indeed, that may not even be necessary. What we have done, however, is shown how important a role the growth mindset plays in the acquisition of more than one . . . . . . skill. Learning is, of course, a lifelong endeavor. But the growth mindset concept can greatly help facilitate the acquisition of additional skills.