What it means to be a lifelong learner
The rapid acceleration of technology has made learning possible anytime, anywhere and on just about any device. How and what we learn is up to us – we could be listening to a TED talk on the plane, joining a webinar hosted on the other side of the Atlantic while at work, or taking a quiz on an app before we go to sleep. The challenge for learning providers has become to make content relevant and adjustable according to an individual learner’s taste, as well as available as a browser-based solution, app, in a virtual classroom session and compatible with any operating system.
I’ve also found that you can learn something in any situation, even without being hooked up to your tablet, smart phone or laptop. Knowledge can be acquired in a simple face to face conversation or phone call with a friend, or while taking a walk somewhere by yourself – there’s always something to learn, you just need to keep an open frame of mind. For conversations in particular, it pays to be an active listener, but this requires practice. Instead of waiting for the next pause so that we can butt in and get our point across, active listening means focussing on the content at hand and paraphrasing it to confirm we’ve understood it correctly.
The 70:20:10 framework is gaining more and more significance, as organisations realise that a formal training session is not enough to keep up with the pace of tech innovation and the vast amount of information out there. This framework states that about 70% of learning happens on the job, e.g. through trial and error, 20% through our peers and just 10% in an actual classroom setting. This supports the theory that learning can take place in any given situation, either alone or in a group, be it formal or informal. For a company to effectively apply this framework, however, management needs to be on board from the start and communicate the benefits to everyone across all levels. Otherwise it will end up being another paper-based theory which nobody fully understands or is able to put into practice.
Never too late
There is no reason to think that our years of learning are over once we grow up. In fact, we probably don’t start connecting the dots and acquiring real wisdom until at a much later stage in life. At the same time, however, studies show that, the brain reduces in size and our memory becomes more difficult to access as we age. To some extent, we can work against this by keeping our brains active, acquiring new knowledge and skills outside of the workplace, taking up hobbies, reading and writing or even learning things off by heart. Simple cognitive tests can facilitate this and increase the amount of grey matter, which serves to process information in the brain.
How to know you’re learning
Teaching others is a great way to figure out if the knowledge or skill has actually stuck with us and whether we’re making progress. And while doing so, we’ll acquire another great skill – teaching! We should try to find out if we can we convey our skills by talking to others, writing up a report or manual or holding a formal presentation.
Joseph Joubert once said: “To teach is to learn twice.” In teaching others, we will often learn even more than our students. Not only does this require a good grasp of the material, but we’ll also be expected to respond to the queries of our students and extend our understanding of the subject, as well as see it from a different perspective. Finally, ongoing learning can have great advantages in the workplace. We should talk to our colleagues and bosses about our new skills and see if they can be applied in a different area of work to make things more interesting and diverse. Making learning and skills more fluid and accessible will ultimately benefit the company in terms of reduced recruitment costs and increased employee engagement and long-term retention.
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