Become a Lifelong Learner
To be successful in your life and in your work, you must become an excellent, independent, lifelong learner. But what are the best ways to become a lifelong learner? Based on my experience and research, here are the six most important ways to take control of your learning.
1. Discover Your Interests
To be successful at learning, you must have specific learning goals. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to work toward? What do you want to be able to do? To gain?
For me, I find that I love learning about goal-setting, motivation, learning, habit change, instructional design, strategies for success, leadership, management, spirituality, and martial arts (in no particular order). I might shift my focus depending on what I am working on at the time, but I am ALWAYS learning about one or more of these topics. And, for each topic, I have a specific goal in mind, something I want to accomplish as a result of my learning.
2. Form Habits of Learning
You must also form habits of learning. These habits can be receptive (in which you are acquiring information) and productive (in which you are creating knowledge or using knowledge). For example, my habits include the following:
- Reading in the morning. I usually wake up around 6:00 am. This gives me about 30 minutes to read religious materials, meditate, pray and write in my journal. I find that this habit helps me start my day in a more centered manner.
- Listening to books, podcasts, and conferences. This is a major method for gaining new knowledge. I listen to books while I am walking, driving, working out, and working in the yard. I usually listen to books related to the topics above, and I typically read or listen to 40-50 books per year. This is not to mention conference talks or podcasts I listen to.
- Blogging and writing. I write a lot about the topics I am interested in, particularly my learning and instructional design blog, and this blog on time management and personal success. I use this blog for self-development and related topics. I also write academic articles for academic or practitioner audiences. Writing about my interests allows me to process and refine my understanding of what I learn, and it also gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge with others.
- Attend conferences and webinars. Many experts highly recommend this practice, and I try to attend a conference every year, when possible. There are often free or inexpensive conferences and webinars held by universities, and an individual need only find out when they are held. And many organizations host webinars on a regular basis.
- Get a formal education. Attending classes and earning degrees is an extremely powerful, efficient way to build your knowledge. My formal education has given me a foundation that I will build upon for the rest of my life, and I continually receive benefits from my formal education. It is definitely an investment, but the benefits will far outweigh the costs.
3. Use Learning Technologies
There are many technologies out there that can make learning relatively painless and meaningful. Here are some of the methods that I use, and there are literally hundreds of methods out there.
- The Internet. Google is still a great way to gain knowledge. You can find a TON of information from simply searching. Videos, tutorials, blogs, wikis, websites, podcasts are all excellent ways to boost your knowledge. YouTube in particular has become an incredible instrument for learning.
- Audio Books. I have found that listening to books is a great way to maximize my time. As I mentioned, when I run, walk, drive, work in the yard, or shop, I do my best to be sure that I am listening to something meaningful. I have listened to literally dozens of books over the last year or so, and I have many more on my list.
- The library. Yes, the library. I visit the library in my town at least once a week. I am constantly checking out books and audio books and very often I will browse the "new books" section and serendipitously find books that have a deep impact on my life and my learning.
- Friends. While friends are not necessarily a technology, simply having a great conversation can yield great knowledge. Some people exude knowledge, and I try to spend as much time as I can with them.
- Apps. There are a bajillion apps out there that can be used for learning purposes. The main thing is to find those that fit your specific needs and learning goals and interests.
There are literally hundreds of technologies, apps, and media that can be utilized to make your learning more efficient and effective. Your technologies will likely change and adapt over time - the above are what are working for me right now, and I will continue to seek out new knowledge.
4. Work Toward Your Goals, Adjust as Needed
An important aspect of successful lifelong learning is developing and working toward learning goals. For all of my interests above, I have goals. I study karate because I am working toward becoming a black belt in that discipline. I study spirituality because I am a devout Christian and have the goal of refining my discipleship. Whatever your interests and goals, be sure that you are setting goals that will help you succeed. Having goals will also help you chart your own progress as you move forward in your life.
5. Focus on Improvement
Learning should serve a higher purpose. Focus your energy on self-improvement and on improving the world. Focus on what is meaningful and can impact your life and others' lives in a positive way. We can all have a lasting, meaningful impact on the world and on the people we interact with. We have the capacity bring light, comfort, strength, opportunities and help to others, to relieve burdens, pain, and discomfort. I believe that we each have a destiny and a calling in life, and doing what we can to learn and grow enables us to better fulfill our purposes.
6. Bonus! Learn From Experts!
A bonus strategy! One of the most critical, powerful ways you can become an effective lifelong learner is to learn from people who have done what you want to do. Find people you can spend time with and interact with. Follow them on social media and learn everything you can from them. Find experts that are willing to mentor or guide you as you move forward in your goals. This is perhaps the fastest way you can learn and move toward your goals with efficiency.
Get started on improving your lifelong learning! Start to make simple changes now. Write down interests and set goals for what you want to learn about and accomplish. Start to form habits that will help you succeed at lifelong learning. Start listening to books while you commute or exercise. Use technologies to efficiently increase your knowledge. The key is to simply get started! Sometimes it can feel like no progress is being made, but I assure you it is. Just keep learning, and you will be surprised at the great knowledge and skills you will have amassed.