In your quest to become a lifelong learner, don’t neglect your reading. Reading is one of the best and most flexible and accessible tools of lifelong learning. Reading is a key to expanding your knowledge. Maintain a list of books, articles, and papers you want to read for self-development or to update your technical knowledge. Update this list frequently, and add new material as you discover them. Apply rapid reading skills to scan the material quickly to determine its value and to find the material you want. A properly organized and catalogued system of filing can be a great source of reference, when you want to do some research.
The Journey to Lifelong Learning
The acronym, PRACTICED, will help you remember how you can become a lifelong learner.
- Priority. Make the practice of lifelong learning a priority in your life. Set aside at least half an hour a day to build up that knowledge or skill in the area of expertise that you need to acquire. Nothing will happen unless you make it happen and put in the effort.
- Reflect. Reflection is a most important aspect of learning. Think deeply about what you have learned. Build review periods into your learning so you do not forget. Information is quickly forgotten unless reviewed, and skills fall into decay unless practised. Observe how others learn, and model the behavior of the best learners. Listen to what people have to say, and look for feedback on your performance and behaviour. Don’t take criticism personally as it may be a pointer to your shortcomings and a way of learning from your mistakes. Continuous improvement and lifelong learning should be your goal.
- Action learning. We learn best by doing things, and we acquire skill by doing things over and over again. Most skills take a considerable amount of time to acquire and perfect. World-class musicians hone their skills up to eight hours a day. Athletes constantly practice and have sports psychologists to advise, direct, and motivate them. Professional golfers finish 18 holes and then head to the driving range to practise. Tiger Woods has a coach. So does Rory McIlroy, a current world champion golfer.
- Curiosity. A curious mind is a receptacle for learning. The secret of genius is to carry the wonderment of childhood into adulthood. We should be inquisitive and ask questions such as how, what, and why all the time. It is through questions seeking answers that we learn. Develop your powers of creativity by looking for alternative ways to do things or solve problems. Einstein wisely maintained that asking questions and imagination was more important than intelligence.
- Teach. A great way of learning is to teach others as it consolidates and reinforces our knowledge. We can do this by showing other people how to do things, and by demonstrating, coaching, and mentoring. Channels used for mentoring usually include a combination of e-mail, telephone, and face-to-face meetings. Mentoring can be a great source of informal and non-threatening support. Many famous people maintain that they would not have succeeded in life to the extent that they did without the services of a good mentor.
- Insight. Discovery consists of looking at the same things as everybody else but seeing something different. Many people saw the apple fall, but it was only Newton, through insight and reflection, who discovered the laws of gravity. Similarly, many scientific discoveries have happened through unique insight. Serendipity also may play a role, but people who make great discoveries by chance have the judgment and persistence to pursue the idea to fruition.
- Concentration. We must develop powers of concentration if we want to learn and excel. Having goals, listening attentively, dealing with distractions effectively, and practicing the technique of mental rehearsal are just some of the ways you can improve your concentration. In addition, good self-belief and a positive attitude will help you stay focused.
- Exercise and nutrition. Build in programs of exercise into your lifelong learning habits so you will keep mentally and physically fit. Physical exercise induces the body to produce an array of chemicals that the brain and, indeed, the heart love. The brain, as well as the body, thrives on oxygen and proper nutrition. The brain needs a nutritious diet to survive and thrive. A balanced diet of vitamins and nutrients is needed to keep your body and brain in peak condition.
- Different learning styles. There are different learning styles, but most of us use a combination of these. Academics have classified learning styles in different ways. One popular method can be recalled by the acronym, VAT, which stands for visual, audial, and tactile. Put simply, we learn by seeing, hearing, and doing. Another classification is Activist, Reflector, Theorist, and Pragmatist. In other words, we do something, think about it, understand it, and then based on our understanding, we may do it differently. This is how we learn.
Total Passionate Commitment
To become a lifelong learner, you must be totally committed to, and be enthusiastic about, the pursuit of learning, and believe that learning is a journey and not a destination. As a self-directed learner, you must be responsible for your own learning. Only by knowing your shortcomings can you take steps to address them. Plato’s ancient advice, “Know Thyself,” is still relevant today.
You must identify your learning needs; set your own goals; identify human, monetary, and material resources needed for learning; monitor your progress; evaluate learning outcomes at each stage; and modify your learning strategies as necessary.
Compare your current skills, knowledge, and experience with your desired level of skills, knowledge, and experience. Identify the gap and draw up a learning plan to meet it. For example, if you are weak at public speaking, you should avail yourself of every opportunity to improve it by making presentations, getting feedback, addressing your weaknesses, and making improvements for your next event. Learning is a continual process of improvement.
To become a successful lifelong learner, you must be self-motivated. You must develop a passion and interest in your chosen subject. This passion often is expressed through a hobby or volunteering work.
Excerpt from “Awaken the Genius Within—A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills” by Samuel A. Malone (Glasnevin Publishing Dublin, 2014). It is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Samuel A. Malone is a self-employed training consultant, lecturer, and author. He has an M.Ed with distinction (in training and development) from the University of Sheffield and is a qualified Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA), Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), and a Chartered Secretary (ACIS). Malone is a fellow of the Irish Institute of Training and Development (FIITD) and the the author of 20 books published in Ireland, the UK, and abroad on learning, personal development, study skills, and business management. His most recent book is “Awaken the Genius Within—A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills” (Glasnevin Publishing Dublin). Other books include: “Why Some People Succeed and Other Fail” (Glasnevin Publishing Dublin, 2011); “Learning About Learning” (CIPD London); “A Practical Guide to Learning in the Workplace” (The Liffey Press Dublin); “Better Exam Results” (Elsevier/CIMA, London) and “How to Set Up and Manage a Corporate Learning Centre” (Gower, Aldershot, UK).