Lifelong learning has become one of those catch phrases that pops up all over the place. We read it and we use it. It is a topic I have often blogged about.
In a couple of weeks, I look forward to sharing some of my thoughts on how teachers can and should develop their own lifelong learning skills when I make a presentation at the 2014 Pearson National Teaching and Learning Conference, but addressing the importance of developing lifelong learning skills in the students we teach is of equal value!
In a blog post written a couple of years ago: Learning to learn: 10 essential skills for teachers I wrote about the importance of teaching students how they can learn on their own:
Lifelong learning: One of the most forgotten aims of education is to teach students how they can learn on their own and that school days are just a stepping stone to never-ending lifelong learning. Incorporate examples into your lesson that demonstrate the power of self-discovery, exploration, learning and mastery. Today’s online world is replete with opportunities for all of us to determine our own learning path. Specifically demonstrate the vast range of sources available to achieve personal goals.”
And in an earlier post when I was discussing which I thought to be the better learning model PLNs or PDs I found myself again writing about the importance and value of developing lifelong learning skills:
New skills, new thoughts, new pedagogy, new knowledge: The gift of learning how to learn on your own cannot be over emphasized. The continuous engagement, immersion and self-paced learning afforded by learning with and from a PLN is beyond belief. Providing a springboard for continued learning and exploration, the very nature of a PLN aims to support an individual’s lifelong learning.”
Knowing that there’s more to it than osmosis, perhaps now is as good a time as any to pause and consider how to develop students’ lifelong learning skills. When teasing out an issue, it is of course appropriate to start with a definition of what we are talking about. So looking at the simplest definition lifelong learning is defined by Macmillan Dictionary as
a process of gaining knowledge and skills that continues throughout a person’s life”
While this is a neat and concise definition, I beg to differ a little. To me, lifelong learning is more about developing a set of skills by which an individual can pursue knowledge. Learning these skills in an educational setting, be it school or university is what it’s really all about. Teaching students how to learn should be the gift that educators aim to impart.
The set of skills we need to focus on to successfully develop lifelong learning skills are many and varied, but could include any or all of the following:
- Search strategy skills: Learning how to define a problem and then setting about locating, selecting, organizing, presenting and finally evaluation information gleaned, discovered or learned is an essential strategy.
- Critical thinking skills: Learning not to take information, particularly that which is located online, as gospel is very important. Students need to be shown how to check and verify the authenticity of information.
- Problem solving skills: Learning how to go about solving problems will depend on the nature of the issue being explored. By providing students with opportunities to brainstorm together and suss out different paths to follow to get to the end solution are important learning skills to incorporate into our everyday teaching. The value of collaboration cannot be over emphasized!
- Lateral thinking skills: Being able to think outside of the box lends itself to self directed learning and exploring. Students can gain much by completing exercises that force them to think beyond the obvious.
- Presentation skills: Being able to present information in a clear and coherent way so that others can interpret it is an essential life skill. Learning to interpret both visual and written presentations is equally of value.
- Communication skills: Learning to use social networking as a learning tool among our students is vital. While there is much discussion about responsible use of social media, are we teaching our students how to use these tools to expand their own learning?
- Interpersonal skills: Appropriate verbal and non verbal communication plus listening and questioning skills, being responsible and accountable for actions, awareness of social etiquette and expectations alongside self management skills are essential for working as a member of a team. Learning from and with others is what it is all about!
- Confidence building skills: Developing an ‘I can’ attitude and assertiveness is so very important. Education must aim to instil confidence in our students so that they know they can learn, explore and achieve successfully on their own. Providing opportunities to do this is essential.
- Self-directed learning skills: By giving our students the opportunity to determine what and how they will learn is a valuable way for them to determine the path of their own learning. If educators constantly set the agenda for students, there is little scope for them to discover the joy of learning on their own. They need opportunities – many of them – to become active learners who direct their own learning path. Self directed learning can be very powerful.
- Project planning skills: Being able to set parameters for the scope of a project as well as setting and sticking to a time line for the completion of a project is an imperative skill to ensure learning continues throughout a lifetime. Being able to self manage and set achievable tasks is something that follows us throughout life.
Above all though, educators need to inspire in students a love of learning. By igniting a passion and a hunger to learn, educators will be setting students upon a path of lifelong learning.
This TED Talk by Ramsey Musallam outlines three key rules to spark learning and the imagination of students:
- Curiosity: Questions can be windows to great instruction
- Embrace: Taking risks through trial and error should be an informal part of what we do every single day
- Reflect: Intense reflecting on information gathered is a powerful source