Learning for Learning’s Sake

It took more energy than I had anticipated and when it was over all I wanted to do was lay down and take a nap.

No, it wasn‘t the workout at the gym I should have been doing. Instead it was delivering a guest lecture for a class of first year university students studying leadership. While it might have been there, they definitely didn’t exude much energy or excitement about learning. I found myself practically tap dancing to keep them focused and resorted to sharing more stories than theory and asking questions just to keep them engaged.

It was sad really but likely not their fault. Somehow we seem to have created a culture where too many view education as a necessary evil instead of a key to continued growth and success. I’m also not sure they’ve grasped that a formal education is only the beginning, particularly in a knowledge economy fueled by rapid change. Acquiring new skills and knowledge is a must for everyone so a commitment to ongoing, self-directed learning is rather essential.

However if kids aren’t excited about learning for learning’s sake, perhaps we could motivate them, as well as ourselves, to embrace and plan more for learning by providing information about why it is so important. After all there are a lot of solid, practical reasons why learning can, and needs to be, part of our daily lives.

A commitment to learning will help you find yourself. We all have innate yet sometimes undiscovered talents. Learning can help us find what we’re passionate about in addition to identifying our natural talents. While many may think it is money and material rewards that will make us happy, latching on to one’s talents and passion is ultimately what leads to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

Learning will also make you a much more interesting person. While quoting sports statistics or being knowledgeable about celebrities might make you popular within your immediate circle, a wider range of knowledge will allow you to draw on a variety of perspectives and engage with others at a deeper and richer level.

Knowing more will increase your potential for the innovation that is so critical in today’s world.  The broader your knowledge base, the greater the odds that your thinking will be creative and original.

Learning will also help you be a more confident person. I wasn’t exactly a stellar student in high school so going back to university and finding success as a mature student made me realize I had something to offer. It also helped me adapt more quickly to new situations.

Ultimately though, learning is essential because we are learning creatures and practicing lifelong learning is what makes us human and our lives worthwhile.

So how does one incorporate learning for learning’s sake into one’s life? Can you plan for learning beyond being involved in purely academic, formal instruction? Of course you can. History is full of examples of people who have succeeded as the result of being self-taught. Additionally, we are blessed to live in an era where knowledge is at our fingertips as the result of the power of the Internet and the media.

It is probably simplest to begin by developing a deep understanding of what matters to you most. It might be related to your job, a hobby, or special interest. Then, work to develop a broader understanding of the world in general.

Challenge your curiosity by acknowledging gaps in your understanding of the world. Heighten your awareness of what you don’t know and receive it as a challenge to learn more to fill that gap.

Practice patience. Learning something new can take time especially if you’re out of practice. It may be frustrating to learn new terms, models, and information that at first may seem irrelevant. However if you are patient, ultimately you will find yourself moving from basic knowledge to more advanced concepts.

Connect the dots. This is probably the hardest part about lifelong learning. Take time to learn how a new body of knowledge can relate to what you already know. The more you seek and see the connections between different learnings, the easier it will be for you to connect to new concepts.

In the end though, it is those students I keep thinking about. My hope is they figure out that learning is fundamental to life and that by embracing lifelong learning they will find the surest route to a future filled with the utmost of adventures, growth, meaning, and joy.

Posted on 03-28-10

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