Learning is a fundamental human attribute. Learning is arguably what humans do best. Charles Darwin showed us how our evolving brains enabled us to advance in leaps and bounds, exploring, innovating and reflecting. Using tools and inventing abstractions, the human race has pressed forward at an extraordinary rate. Yet, why do so many of us never achieve our true potential? Why are some of us left behind?

‘LearningUnlearning’ focuses on how you can design and develop a life you want. We will take a holistic view of your life, taking into account your work and career, your relationship with others and also your relationship with yourself – the professional, the social and the personal aspects of your life. This column is about YOU and how you can THRIVE. I will aim to bring you cutting edge knowledge and information that you need to architect and build a meaningful life. You will learn about the most important developments in the world of work.

Learning is a complex and sometimes paradoxical phenomenon

You will learn about new and emerging industries and about the new opportunities that they present. You will learn about how rapid technological change will affect your career and job prospects and about how emerging new cultural practices and habits of mind influence how you experience and shape your career and your life.

In this first episode, I want to introduce you to the concept and idea of lifelong learning and what it means to be IN BETA. We will keep returning to these concepts again and again in this show, but this lays the foundation for everything that follows, so listen in carefully.

Learning is a complex and sometimes paradoxical phenomenon. Some of it takes place in institutional settings like schools, colleges and universities, places of worship, in clubs and societies. A lot of it does not; for example, the workplace is a significant site for learning. Sometimes learning has to be collective; sometimes it is profoundly individual. ‘Personalisation’ (framing the educational experience so that it is just right and just in time for the individual learner) can work well, but there is a danger of suppressing the shared understanding that comes from learning together.

Learning isn’t just about subject knowledge; nor is it just about practical skills. It is also about developing the judgement needed to put these two together

Some learning requires formal recognition (as in accreditation) before it is of value; other learning will remain not only personal but also private. Often learning is joyful; sometimes it requires pain, and especially endurance. You sometimes have to frighten yourself into learning what it is you have to learn. Above all, learning is about an attitude of mind, a propensity, or a curiosity.

Learning isn’t just about subject knowledge; nor is it just about practical skills. It is also about developing the judgement needed to put these two together. Many people refer to this as ‘learning how to learn’. Some learning is instrumental or routine and some kind of learning can be liberating or transformative. We learn to earn, but we also learn to live. My vision is of a society in which learning plays its full role in personal growth and emancipation, prosperity, solidarity and global responsibility.

I believe learning is intimately connected with the achievement of freedom of choice, health and well-being, dignity, cultural identity and democratic tolerance. I strongly feel that the right to learn throughout life is a fundamental human right. This why I have created Storiyoh and our tagline is Raising Capabilities and Expanding Freedoms.

We know that learning alone cannot bring about these personal and social goods. They depend also on social justice, the absence of poverty, societal norms and your personal values.

Lifelong learning has a range of meanings. As a term it generates a surprising amount of confusion and blank looks – which is surprising, since ‘learning’ is a common word and ‘lifelong’ is fairly self-explanatory. Any definition of lifelong learning is challenging. A contributor to Wikipedia captures the spirit rather well: ‘Lifelong learning is the concept that “it’s never too soon or too late for learning”’. By ‘lifelong’ I mean from cradle to grave. The learning can occur in educational or training institutions, the workplace (on or off the job), the family, or cultural and community settings. I use ‘learning’ to refer to all forms of organised education and training (whether or not they carry certification); but I also include informal modes of learning to some extent, provided these have a degree of organisation and intention. Therefore, let me give you a broad definition of lifelong learning:

Lifelong learning includes people of all ages learning in a variety of contexts – in educational institutions, at work, at home and through leisure activities. It focuses mainly on adults returning to organised learning rather than on the initial period of education or on incidental learning.

Since we are here discussing about lifelong learning, the natural question that arises is: why bother? Some of you have already been through various stages of education, from schools to university degrees and professional qualifications. Some may have very little exposure, having had limited access to formal education. The question, however, remains – why should I keep learning new stuff?

In the software space there is this idea of a beta version. A beta version of a product is that which is rolled out but is still pretty much under development, still unfinished and far from what the final product will look like. Typically, a beta version is rolled out to test the product and to collect feedback so that it can be improved. Gmail was in beta for a long time, remember? I am not talking about software here, but I like the idea of the beta version, the-unfinished-constantly-under-development product. We ought to think of ourselves as beta products. Unfinished, under development, with more room for improvement and growth. Lifelong learning then means lifelong beta. We should be in a state of permanent beta. Still, why bother?

Before I go further, I think it’s useful to highlight that when we are talking of lifelong learning, we are pretty much talking about adult learning. This is because much of it has to take place well after our third decade, and will need to continue into our fifth, sixth and possibly even into our seventh decade.

However, I must also highlight that the seeds of lifelong learning ought to be sown much earlier (ideally) during primary and secondary schooling, as this has long lasting impact on our mental models of learning. This also does not mean that lifelong learning is inaccessible to those who have not had access to basic education. In fact, much of the adult learning sector caters to adults returning back to education, especially those with limited literacy and numeracy skills.

(LearningUnlearning is a series about YOU and how you can THRIVE)

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