Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Become a Successful Lifelong Learner

In the knowledge society, being able to gain a depth and breadth of knowledge is absolutely critical. However, many people still believe that after high school or college, they have learned everything they need to succeed. Knowledge and technology are advancing at an incredible pace, and much of the knowledge and technology we will be using in the near future has not yet been created. To succeed, it is absolutely crucial to develop habits of lifelong learning.

Components of Successful Lifelong Learning

6 Self-directed Learning Strategies
To be successful lifelong learners, we must become excellent, independent, self-directed learners. But what are the best strategies for continuous learning in today's society? I have done a lot of learning over the past several years, and here are the six most important ways to take control of your learning.


1. Discover Your Interests
To be successful at learning, you should probably have specific learning goals. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to work toward? What do you want to be able to do? To gain?
For me, I find that I love learning about goal-setting, motivation, learning, habit change, instructional design, strategies for success, spirituality, Christianity, communication strategies, training, presentation skills, Mormonism, fitness, running, and log cabins (in no particular order). I usually drift from topic to topic, but I am ALWAYS learning about one or more of these topics, and for each topic, I have a specific goal in mind, something I want to accomplish as a result of my learning.

2. Form Habits of Learning
It is vital that you form habits that will enable your learning. These habits can be receptive (in which you are acquiring information) and productive (in which you are creating knowledge or using knowledge). For example, my habits include the following:
  • Reading in the morning. I usually wake up around 6:00 am. This gives me about 30 minutes to read religious materials, meditate, pray and write in my journal. I find that this habit helps me start my day in a more centered manner.
  • Listening to books, podcasts, and conferences. This is my most effective method for gaining new knowledge. I listen to books while I am walking, driving, working out, and working in the yard. I usually listen to books related to the topics above, and over the last year, I have listened to over 20 books. This is not to mention the many conference presentations and topics I have listened to.
  • Blogging and writing. I write a lot about the topics I am interested in, particularly instructional design. I reserve this blog for learning and design-related topics, and I write about the other topics in my journal or in private blogs. If I want to write to academic or practitioner audiences, I also write academic articles. I find that writing about my interests allows me to process and refine my understanding of what I learn, and it also gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge with others.
  • Attend conferences. I try to attend a conference every year, sometimes two, when possible. I am blessed to work at a university that supports my conference attendance, and I have really benefited from many of those that I have attended. I've started writing about my conference experiences here and plan to continue to document my learning. There are very often free or inexpensive conferences held by universities, and an individual need only find out when they are held. For example, Franklin University is holding a scholarship forum this September, and Virginia Tech holds a Teaching in Higher Education Conference each year.
  • Get a formal education. Attending classes and earning degrees is an extremely powerful, efficient way to build your knowledge. My formal education has given me a foundation that I will build upon for the rest of my life, and I continually receive blessings that come from a formal education. It is definitely an investment, but the benefits will far outweigh the costs.
3. Use Learning Technologies
There are many technologies out there that can make learning relatively painless and meaningful. Here are some of the methods that I use, and there are literally hundreds of methods out there.
  • The Internet. Google is still a great way to gain knowledge. You can find a TON of information from simply searching. Videos, tutorials, blogs, wikis, websites, podcasts are all excellent ways to boost your knowledge.
  • Audio Books. I have found that listening to books is a great way to maximize my time. As I mentioned, when I run, walk, drive, work in the yard, or shop, I do my best to be sure that I am listening to something meaningful. I have listened to literally dozens of books over the last year or so, and I have many more on my list.
  • The library. Yes, the library. I visit the library in my town at least once a week. I am constantly checking out books and audio books and very often I will browse the "new books" section and serendipitously find books that have a deep impact on my life and my learning.
  • Friends. While friends are not necessarily a technology, simply having a great conversation can yield great knowledge. Some people exude knowledge, and I try to spend as much time as I can with them.
  • Apps. There are a bajillion apps out there that can be used for learning purposes. The main thing is to find those that fit your specific needs and learning goals and interests.
Again, there are literally hundreds of technologies, apps, and media that can be utilized to make your learning more efficient and effective. Your list will likely change and adapt over time - the above are what are working for me right now, and I will continue to seek out new knowledge.
4. Work Toward Your Goals, Adjust as Needed
An important aspect of successful lifelong learning is developing and working toward learning goals. For all of my interests above, I have goals. I study about log cabins because someday I plan to build a log cabin. I study about Mormonism and Christianity because I am a devout Mormon and find great spiritual inspiration and satisfaction from doing so. Whatever your interests and goals, be sure that you are setting goals that will help you succeed. Having goals will also help you chart your own progress as you move forward in your life.

5. Focus on Improvement
Learning should serve a higher purpose. Focus your energy on self-improvement and on improving the world. Focus on what is meaningful and can impact your life and others' lives in a positive way. We all have the capacity to have a lasting, meaningful impact on the world and on the people we interact with. We have the capacity bring light, comfort, strength, opportunities and help to others, to relieve burdens, pain, and discomfort. I believe that we each have a destiny and a calling in life, and doing what we can to learn and grow enables us to better fulfill our purposes.

6. Get Started
If you want to get started on improving your lifelong learning, start to make simple changes now. Write down interests and set goals for what you want to learn about and accomplish. Start to form habits that will help you succeed at lifelong learning. Use technologies to efficiently increase your knowledge. The key is to simply get started! Sometimes it can feel like no progress is being made, but I assure you it is. Just keep learning, and you will be surprised at the great knowledge and skills you will have amassed. Do you have any suggestions from you on how to become an effective lifelong learner?
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