Lifelong learning

The path to lifelong learning is to never lose our sense of curiosity and wonder, and to realise that we can always get better by learning and putting those learnings into practice.

Before we started school a lot of our learning came from natural curiosity and from playing games, which are a type of imitation of ‘real life’. Indeed, curiosity and playfulness are observed in many young mammals such as puppies, kittens, dolphin pups, and lion and bear cubs. Studies show that play is a way to stimulate and test ourselves to see what we are capable of. In mammals play is a way to learn social skills including being able to understand emotional cues. This is the natural way to be – inquisitive, playful and spontaneous.

Lifelong learning and the growth mindset

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” – Carol Dweck

The developmental psychologist Carol Dweck has studied two different mindsets which are prevalent amongst people. One is what she named the ‘fixed’ mindset. The fixed mindset comes from thinking that ‘I am the finished me, I am good at what I do, and I will continue to prove it’. The other mindset, the ‘growth mindset’, is the opposite. It comes from the thought that ‘I am not the finished me, I can always get better, and I am always willing to be better.’

To foster a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, parents and teachers should praise initiative and effort more than actual achievement. Making mistakes is part of achievement; mistakes are not failure, they are practice.

The following table illustrates some of the ideas and thinking of each of the two mindsets:

Fixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
“Failure is the limit of my opportunities”“Failure is an opportunity to grow”
“I’m either good at it or I’m not”“I can learn to do anything I want”
“I don’t like challenges”“Facing challenges helps me grow”
“My potential is fixed and predetermined”“My attitude and effort determine by abilities”
“When I am frustrated I give up”“When I am frustrated I work harder”
“I stick to what I know”“I like to try new things”
“I stick with what I am good at”“I like to get better at things I’m not good at”
“Feedback is personal criticism”“Feedback is constructive”

Self-sufficient learning

The growth mindset drives lifelong learning. There is a wonderful saying: ‘If you give a child a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach a child to fish you feed him for a lifetime’. This is the key to education; it is essentially the same as saying don’t teach what to learn, teach how to learn. It is also about self-sufficient learning and recognising the fact that most learning does not come from instruction but from immersion in interesting and challenging situations.

Holistic learning

This means, as well as life-long learning, the best type of learning is holistic. Holistic learning is about the whole person in the context of the big-picture. The whole person has interests, motivations and abilities that are intellectual, artistic, and practical. A well-rounded person continues to develop their critical thinking and understanding, imagination and creativity, communication and social skills, numeracy and literacy, and general knowledge, in addition to their specific range of interests.

One of the drivers of prejudice and discrimination is ignorance. Having a wide-ranging general knowledge will help people understand others and thereby be more tolerant, respectful and considerate of them.

Good general knowledge aids the attainment of wisdom because wisdom is reliant on understanding the ‘big picture’ and our place in it. The big picture is everything other than our ego, and so the key to holistic learning, and wisdom, is the recognition that it is not ‘all about me’.