There is an adage that if we are not moving forward, we are likely moving backward. Each day and each year bring new challenges and demands for more and better approaches, strategies, and skills. What we have learned in the past may have served us well, but each year there is more to learn, and there are more reasons to learn. If we do not keep learning, we risk becoming stale and left to rely on a limited set of options to respond to novel and increasingly complex challenges.
People who have studied workplace learning observe that we must increase our professional and technical knowledge and skills at least 25% each year just to avoid falling behind. Depending on the year and the nature of our work, the amount we need to learn may be more. The bottom line is that we need to continually learn and to keep what we learn fresh. Here are five strategies we can employ to ensure that our learning continues to grow and stays vibrant and accessible.
First, we can challenge ourselves to learn something new and significant each week. Obviously, we are likely to learn more than one thing each week, but by setting a goal and paying attention we are more likely to notice, appreciate, and retain what we learn. Two reflection statements can assist us in this pursuit. The first is: I used to believe _______, but now I know _______. The second is: The most important insight I gained this week was ________, and I will use it to _______. Over time, our weekly learning will accumulate and lead to an increasingly wide array of ideas, insights, and options to inform our thinking and work.
Second, we can engage with educators who are not of our generation in conversations, activities, and projects. If we are new to our career, experienced professionals can often offer insights, experiences, and wisdom that can accelerate our learning and build key skills. If we have years of experience in education, new to the profession educators can offer new perspectives and ask questions that lead us to reflect and question common practices and approaches. Equally important, we can discover learning partners who might join us on our learning journey.
Third, we can use and share what we learn. We have all heard or experienced something new, only to forget it in the weeks and months that follow. If we want to remember and have accessible what we learn, we need to do two things. We need to share new learning with someone as soon as practical. Sharing new learning offers multiple benefits, including providing a reason to organize what we have learned in our mind. It can also lead to new insights and create a new and deeper level of understanding. We also need to apply new learning. When we do, we gain an even deeper understanding and develop a richer context to what we have learned. Our brains respond to learning that has meaning and purpose. Sharing and using what we learn sends a message to our brain that this learning is important and needs to be stored.
Fourth, we can expose ourselves to perspectives and opinions that are not obvious or aligned with our assumptions. Most people tend to seek out ideas and perspectives that reinforce what they already know and believe. The information we absorb may make us feel good. However, significant learning is more likely to occur when our assumptions, understanding, and perspectives are challenged. When we are exposed to ideas that push our thinking or challenge our current knowledge, we may find that our thinking changes, or it may be that we reach a better, deeper understanding of what we already know.
Fifth, we can engage in learning experiences outside of education. We may not think that we have time to explore ideas and approaches embedded in other disciplines and areas of endeavor. Yet, other fields often encounter challenges that parallel, or at least relate to problems we face. By exploring how others outside of education view problems like motivation, performance, interpersonal conflicts, and other issues, we may discover options and alternatives we have not considered.
We are committed to developing in our students the motivation and skills to become lifelong learners. What better model can we offer than to demonstrate our commit to be learners for life?