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Lifelong learning: why development matters at every stage

Samuel Malone

A brain showing colourful structure

Lifelong learning is continuous education and training from cradle to grave involving formal and informal methods of learning. Samuel Malone shows us why it’s never too late to learn

Lifelong learning aims to provide the best possible development and opportunity in personal, social, recreational, working and professional life. To become a lifelong learner you must be totally committed, passionate and purposeful about the pursuit of learning, and believe that learning is a continuous journey and not an end in itself. You must identify your learning needs, set your learning goals, monitor your progress, and modify your learning strategies as necessary. Lifelong learning takes place in the workplace, in colleges, libraries, clubs and professional bodies, in the community and at home.

There are many benefits of lifelong learning including the challenge of learning, the recognition it brings and the sheer thrill of discovery while learning new things. In addition, you will have greater self-esteem and more self-confidence.

You are born with the most amazing computer in your head, but it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Just like an understanding of how a lathe works may help carpenters build better furniture, an understanding of how the brain works may help you use it more effectively. The brain needs learning, oxygen, nutrition and love to survive and thrive. Provided you look after it during your life the brain will serve you well into ripe old age.

Developing the skills to learn

The skills that will boost your ability as a lifelong learner include: concentration, reading, learning maps, learning from mistakes, memory and creativity. These skills can be developed and enhanced through purposeful study and practise.

Concentration is the discipline of being able to become totally absorbed in a topic. In any area of life you can’t achieve anything worthwhile without developing and exercising your powers of concentration. A lack of concentration has resulted in students failing examinations, employees not getting the job they want, companies going bankrupt and sports people losing tournaments and games, with dire personal, professional and financial consequences. It is vital to learn the skills of concentration and how to use them to best effect. One activity to improve your concentration skills is to always have a clear purpose or plan. Purpose provides a focal point, while a plan provides a systematic route to achieve your goals. Intentionally plan and prepare to concentrate rather than hope it will happen by chance.

Good reading skills are critical for success in all areas of our personal and working lives. Reading feeds the brain with ideas and information, nourishes the imagination, expands our mental horizons, enhances creativity and builds our thinking skills. Reading opens the door to other people’s ideas, knowledge and experience without leaving the comfort of your own home. There are reading skills you can master to improve your ability to read faster, smarter, and with greater comprehension and retention. Reading strategies give you choice as regards what you should read carefully, what you should skim and scan, and what you should skip and ignore. Reading strategies will improve the effectiveness and productivity of your learning. They can easily be adapted for different kinds of reading such as challenging non-fiction books, light novels, newspapers, magazines, letters and reports. One activity to improve your reading skills is to apply the SQ4R (Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Record and Review) technique to non-fiction books. Adopt this approach to all serious reading matter that you need to learn, comprehend and recall.

Learning maps

Learning maps are tree-like, radiant, nonlinear ways of organising information by showing graphically the connection between central ideas and supporting information. Evidence supporting the use of learning maps can be drawn from research on the brain, learning theory and memory. They are a way of capturing information, and provide a simplified pictorial overview of complex information, allowing learners to better understand relationships and find new connections. Over the past 50 years they have been adopted for note-taking, research and other purposes by millions of people throughout the world, including students, writers, lecturers, and trainers and leading companies.

If we fail to learn from our mistakes we will go on making them resulting in lost business, lost customers, lost time, lost opportunities and lost productivity. People should see their mistakes as learning opportunities and as feedback for continuous improvement and enlightenment. Most successful people will tell you that they learned more from their mistakes than from their successes. However, going on making the same mistakes over and over again is inefficient and not sustainable. We must learn our lessons, take them on board and move on. We can prevent mistakes recurring by asking questions and reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work, so that we constantly learn from and improve on our performance.

Memory is the power to remember and recall events, and is a central part of our identity and life story. It is impossible to function successfully without a good memory. It is the backbone of our knowledge and the source of our ideas. You can use memory skills in the home, study, personal development or at work. The effort and time involved in learning memory skills will be more than compensated by your improved memory, and overall ability to learn more effectively. There are simple strategies you can adopt to overcome everyday memory problems. Improving memory is a lifelong process and you should aim to make it an on-going integrated and enjoyable part of your life. Discover how your memory works and learn and practise the techniques that will help you remember better and learn more. A simple way to improve your memory is to learn the three basic laws of memory: Impression, Repetition and Association (IRA), and use this acronym to remember things you want to remember. This means you should get a vivid impression of what you want to remember, repeat it a few times, using spaced repetition, and link it with something you know already.

Getting creative with learning

Creativity is often about seeing something unusual in the usual. Apart from making something new, creativity can also be about improving, refining, changing or combining things in new or novel ways. It is also about building on existing ideas and finding inspiration in unlikely places. Creativity turns problems and challenges into opportunities and solutions. Creativity has enriched our lives and provided us with the comforts and conveniences of modern living. Learn the techniques to generate creative ideas and learn about the creative problem solving approach. Use these techniques to enhance your creative ability in your personal, domestic and work life so that you become a more interesting, creative and successful person. Memorise and understand the acronym CAMPERS (combine, adapt, modify, put to other uses, rearrange and simplify), so that you will be able to recall easy and useful ways to enhance your ability to be creative. Study nature and be inspired by the ingenious evolutionary ways it has invented to cope with survival.

Samuel Malone is a training consultant based in Dublin. He is the author of over 20 books published in Ireland, the UK and internationally on learning, personal development, study skills and business management. Samuel Malone’s latest book titled: Awaken the Genius Within – A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills (2014) is published by Glasnevin Publishing Dublin. All his books are available online from Amazon.co.uk

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