We are living in the age of information, with constant access to news, expertise and knowledge. With buckets of information so easily accessible to most of us now, we’re constantly revisiting, brushing up, and updating our knowledge - and keeping up with the tech advancements. Now, back in the day, professors of the first universities in the mediaeval age likely believed that at a certain point in life, or age, we can finish learning. Because there was a limit to training or education, even information that was known and discovered at that point. But these days, with the constantness of new information none of us can really believe that we’ve already learnt enough without further learning across life, no matter our age.
Even knowing things is not considered as important as it used to be in the past. There’s no trivia question that cannot be answered with a quick Google search or simple activity that cannot be performed with an online video tutorial. So, does this mean that we can live without learning?
Unfortunately, no. Actually, the ability to learn is the most important skill that allows us to survive and thrive in this age. In a world that’s constantly changing, what makes us successful is not just knowing specific things, but being able to change and adapt with the world. In other words, being able to constantly learn. Learn new things, new skills, to live in new situations and to solve novel problems.
This is the background that calls international policy makers such as UNESCO to put together the cultural framework of lifelong learning.
[Source: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (2020)]
Lifelong learning calls for a mindset of continuous education and training in formal and informal settings that does not stop at the end of school or by reaching the first academic qualifications in young age, but is continued for the entire lifespan, with a multitude of various opportunities to learn something new.
So, how can we join in lifelong learning?
Our local communities and workplaces are great places to start our pathway of lifelong learning. Engaging in new learning across our lifetime not only makes us wiser and strengthens our mental wellbeing, but also offers an opportunity of personal development and career change. The days where we trained as a solicitor, for example, to be a solicitor forever are over. Having an open mindset to learning new skills across our lifespan makes us ready for new challenges and able to cope with them successfully, reinventing who we are and deciding who we want to be, day by day.
Here are some tips to start embracing a lifelong learning culture:
Embrace a growth mindset: a growth mindset allows us to see abilities and skills as things we can develop, that we can personally grow and keep learning. Our beliefs and motivations are the very starting point, believe in yourself that you can keep learning - even if you’re rubbish at the start!
Take the opportunity to learn within your working hours: personal development of staff is an invaluable resource for a business and should be taken seriously. Relying on bitesize learning outside a full day of work isn’t always as effective as a dedicated learning programme in the workplace - ask your employers what the options are.
Mentoring: being supported by the right person in a learning pathway is like having a good travel guide. It might be a formal mentor if you are in a structured learning programme, or can just be a more experienced person in their field providing us with the right support and inspiration we need.
Make a community: shared learning is one of the most powerful tools we have. This can be with a group of colleagues, friends or family, or maybe it’s an online community of people coming together with the same interests. Share experiences, ask questions and open discussion to enrich and consolidate your learning.
Use digital technology at your own advantage: tech allows us to learn in multiple kinds of ways and to personalise learning based on our needs. Check out what tools you have available online, as part of your job role or in your local community.
Before you go: learning new things doesn’t mean we have to find an academic subject to brush up on, or that contributes to our professional development. It could be a hobby like gardening or a new sport. It could be a creative pursuit like oil painting or playing the flute. Learning doesn’t have to be about formal education, but taking in information and understanding of anything!