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How to become a lifelong learner?

Thursday, 22nd of August 2019

It has been argued that building a successful career requires oneself to become what experts call it becoming ‘a lifelong learner’. In simple terms, lifelong learner is a person who initiates and follows a methodical approach of continuous learning in order to become a competent professional in his/her chosen career. What distinguishes a lifelong learner from the rest of the professionals is that he/she truly believes in ‘intrinsic motivation’ in the form of sense of fulfillment and inner satisfaction over the extrinsic rewards such as pay. Since intrinsic motivation comes from within an individual, it often acts as a strong catalyst in the learning process because it is the learner who is in charge of the process.

Moreover, a lifelong learner explores the answer to the fundamental question of ‘why’ instead of expending the effort on resolving ‘what’ aspects of life. This means people often do activities or things without knowing or being aware of the underlying reason for doing so. As a result, although they perform a range of activities on a daily basis (‘what aspects’) based on a check list, they lack a compelling reason to justify their chosen action or new endeavour. In the words of Simon Sinek (2016), successful people always figure it out ‘why’ before embarking on a journey to find out ‘what’ and ‘how’ aspects.

Furthermore, lifelong learners accept the fact that learning at work place is a collaborative process where people’s unique endowments are put into test and exploration. In other words, lifelong learners do not believe that solutions for problems often should come from only the so called high performing individuals or high flyers. In this sense, learning is considered as a complementary process of working together as a team to offset one’s weaknesses using someone’s strengths and vice versa. Besides, lifelong learners tend to display higher levels of authenticity and humility because both qualities allow them to engage in self-introspection all the times resulting in perseverance and commitment in the learning process.

The philosophy behind lifelong learning is that an individual cannot limit or stop the learning process just because he/she has reached a level of prominence or status in an organisation. Instead, he/she truly understands the notion that knowledge in the absence of continuous acquisition makes it vulnerable to decaying and obsoleting. When it’s being discussed about how to be a lifelong learner following things can be considered. To become an effective lifelong learner, he/she needs to adopt a mindset that is in line with how his/her brain really works. That means he/she needs to foster a growth mindset.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck discovered that people have one of two “mindsets” – fixed or growth.People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve themselves through hard work and practice. And he/ she needs to ditch the idea that need to sign up for a class to actually learn something. Learning isn’t confined to what’s found in books, acquiring practical skill sets is a big part of it too. Establishing goals, finding sources, asking questions are fundamental requirements because effective learning requires active participation. To be a lifelong learner it isn’t enough to just read or listen the way to knowledge, he/she needs to find a way to put that knowledge to work.

Further, according to Stephen R Covey (1989), when we teach, we become truly motivated to learn the material because we want to ensure proper instruction. Teaching also forces us to look at a concept with a beginner’s mind, which can provide the clarity and insight that we were lacking. And it’s important to get feedback while learning, and testing is the best way to do it. As a self-learner, he/she is likely not going to face formal tests, so need to create his/ her own. Using a personal learning environment, experiment with new ways to learn, finding a job that encourages learning and collaboration and making it a priority are some other ways to become a lifelong learner. To go through that path, he/she must have lifelong learning skills.

The list of beneficial lifelong learning skills one can have is broad and diverse. Such skills transform his/her future for the better future because they come from what is best in them like; creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, leadership, collaboration, information management, adaptability, curiosity and reflection. It’s a popular belief amongst many professionals that lifelong learning should be reserved for people who have reached a certain age and who need to learn new skills to stay employed.But, many professionals find that although they’d like to continue their education, their busy schedules and lack of resources keeps them from investing in lifelong learning.

However,if he/she chooses to kick start his/ her lifelong learning,there are many benefits to be gained for the career like; keeping in current and up to date, motivating, helping to grow his/her network and to keep employed for longer.Finally, a lifelong learner takes a long-term perspective when it comes to life’s success and he/she believes that in an agile and competitive world, being competent is the only way to add a unique value proposition to the organisation. However, this reminds that the effect of continuing education can have an individual’s personal and professional development and how a working environment that supports lifelong, ongoing education can build a true sense of loyalty and commitment to the success of one’s organisation.

BM. K. Sachini Avanthika Sirithunga

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