Lifelong Learning is in fashion.
And why not?
There’s something deeply satisfying about looking back and seeing how much you’ve progressed since the last time you checked.
But when someone claims to be a lifelong learner, what do they mean?
Lifelong learning comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. So here are 5 kinds of lifelong learner. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to start you thinking.
The Serial Reader
There’s no doubt that reading can open the mind. Compared to doing an MBA or evening classes, reading is cheap or even free if you frequent your local library.
Furthermore, reading can be an intensely pleasurable way to escape the stressors of everyday life, especially if done by the pool or a roaring fire.
And there’s always that satisfying feeling when someone mentions ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck’ or ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ and you know what they’re talking about because you’ve actually read it.
The drawback is that as far as good learning methods go, reading is a weak contender. You can’t become an expert leader just by reading about it any more than you can become an expert tennis player just by reading about it.
So long as you appreciate it’s limitations, reading is a great way to widen your awareness of new ideas.
Points for: convenient, accessible and low cost.
Points: against: increases awareness but little else without further action.
The Experience Collector
Have you ever been scuba diving? Or parachute jumping? Have you seen the Aurora Borealis or the Great Pyramids?
Life is for the living. You can spend your time reading about it, but experiencing it for real is a whole different kettle of fish.
If I were thinking of employing one of two candidates for a job, one with a degree in Art History and the other with 4 years experience hitchhiking around the world, all else equal, it would be the latter who’d get the job.
Experiences broaden the mind. And as the quote attributed to Confucius goes: When I do, I understand.
Learning to hang glide might be costly, both in terms of time, money and personal insurance, but it’s character building in exactly the same way that reading about it isn’t.
Points for: More memorable, life changing.
Points: against: Expensive and limited by time, geography and availability.
The Certificate Collector
I’ve been in the homes of people who proudly display their (ongoing) collection of official pieces of paper: a Diploma in this, a Degree in that, a Masters in the other. Some people can almost wallpaper their study with them.
These certificates are important because they give recognition to the vast amounts of time and effort put in (unless you just buy them on the internet). They demonstrate a much higher level of learning that begets a deeper understanding.
But formal learning can be time consuming and often forces you to study stuff that is as tough on the brain as it is on the soul, especially when the coursework seems to have been written by an academic sadist.
Points for: Effortful, higher levels of learning, validated.
Points: against: costly, gruelling at times and a piece of paper isn’t the be-all and end-all of learning.
The Professional Learner
While the certificate collector can be like a butterfly, fluttering from one shiny subject to another, the professional learner is like a bulldozer building a road on which their career moves forward.
The Professional Learner puts in the time, effort and funds to start with and then uses it to climb up to the next level. Professional Learning is highly practical and purpose driven.
It’s limitations depend on what courses or trainings are available and on the scope of vision of the learner which sadly tends to be rather narrow. If it’s not immediately relevant, they’re unlikely to be interested.
Points for: practical, clear benefits
Points against: Limited to a narrow range of professional interests
The Personal Developer
The Personal Developer is not just interested in improving themselves professionally but in improving themselves in all life’s facets.
The Personal Developer will proactively learn anything that will improve their own well-being or that of their loved ones.
They will study anatomy to help improve their bad back or German to understand their daughter’s boyfriend. They will teach themselves plumbing, nutrition or web-design if it something they need to progress in their field of interest.
It starts as dabbling, (it’s the only way to start), but it can lead to a respectable level of expertise especially if supported by a personal learning strategy.
Points for: a positive, practical and proactive attitude.
Points against: requires constant focus and perseverance.
Regardless of how you do it, lifelong learning is a noble pastime. If you do consider yourself to be one, which type fits you the best?
And if none of them do, how would you define your type of lifelong learning? Please let me know, I’d love to learn about it.