Experience, Reflection and Action for Lifelong Learning

I recently spoke with a yoga teacher and as I sheepishly described my intermittent practice during lockdown she remarked, 'Yoga is much more than the asanas (postures). It is about learning and self-awareness. Surely you've learnt some big lessons over the past year?'

The gravitas of 2020 - a year of turbulent change and challenge - was not lost on anyone. What we may have overlooked, however, was the great insights and learnings we had during a period when we may have felt otherwise inactive or unproductive.

In an attempt to fill newfound time at home people learnt all sorts of things from making sourdough to new languages. There were also intangible, existential learnings that stemmed from adversity, introspection and a shift in perspective, like the expansion of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and the redefinition of values and ambitions.

Reflecting on the yoga teacher’s sentiment, I realised two things: One, we are always learning from experience even when we don’t realise it, and two, seeking information to verify said learning and ruminating on our experiences is where true growth occurs.

While I may have plateaued in my yoga practice, in retrospect lockdown allowed me to develop greater self-awareness, tolerance and empathy. Surely you learnt things about yourself also?

So how can we grow from these insights and put them to use in our personal and professional lives as life returns to normal? How can we continue the cycle of experience, learning and growth?

Let’s explore the concept of lifelong learning…

Lifelong learning comes in many forms but stems from experience

What is lifelong learning?

Whilst there is no standard definition, lifelong learning can be described as continuous and self-initiated learning inside or outside of formal education for the purpose of personal growth or professional development. Lifelong learning involves proactivity and persistence driven by a conscious desire to grow.

According to Valamis, defining factors of lifelong learning include - 

  • Voluntary
  • Self-motivated or self-initiated
  • Doesn’t always require a cost
  • Often informal
  • Self-taught or instruction that is sought
  • Motivation is out of personal interest or personal development

Why is lifelong learning important? 

In addition to a sense of fulfillment and the pursuit of professional and personal ambitions, according to John Coleman in his article Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life, lifelong learning has tangible benefits including a positive correlation to lifetime earnings; the delay of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s symptoms; the improvement of memory; enhanced interpersonal skills; and greater engagement in a professional and personal setting.

In a year of immense change many of us learnt from our experiences, but those who sought information to corroborate said learnings or took the time to ruminate on their experiences may have grown more than those who didn’t.

For example, an extrovert may have struggled to adapt to a more solitary existence in lockdown. By necessity they may have learnt to become more comfortable with time alone.

However, actively seeking new information or introspection in the way of journaling, mindful meditation or even consuming resources on psychology or self-development could have had profound breakthroughs instead of turning to Netflix or social media to fill a void or sense of discomfort.

The process of the extrovert acclimatising to time alone can be understood through David Kolb’s model, The Experiential Learning Cycle in which effective learning occurs when a person progresses through a cycle of four learning stages from concrete experience, to reflective observation, to abstract conceptualisation, to active experimentation. Kolb writes in his book Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”.

David Kolb's The Experiential Learning Cycle Model
David Kolb’s The Experiential Learning Cycle (1984). Source: Inspiring Business Performance

As we interpret from Kolb’s model, learning is a process of experience, reflection, understanding and action.

When applying this to the extrovert’s scenario the sequence of effective learning could look as follows:

  1. The extrovert experiences the discomfort of time alone
  2. They reflect on this experience and identify divergence with their previous understanding and experiences 
  3. With insight from reflection and new knowledge from other resources, they may identify tools for behaviour change 
  4. They experiment with new tools (e.g. journaling for self-reflection) and in-turn create a new concrete experience from which the cycle repeats 

This kind of conscious, continuous and persistent learning is also essential for adaptability and adeptness in professional circumstances. According to Dr. Richard Novak for Rutgers University, ‘lifelong learning is one of the most effective ways to deal with change, and change is constant - change in our personal lives, change in our work lives, change in our local communities, governance, associations and organizations.’

Lifelong learning and the accrual of knowledge enhances our resilience, adaptability and provides a competitive edge in professional contexts, especially as many industries are quickly changing with technological advancement. In fact according to John Coleman, ‘with all the disruptions in the modern economy, particularly technology, ongoing skill acquisition is critical to persistent professional relevance’.

Woman meditating to self-reflect on experience for lifelong learning

How to make lifelong learning a habit? 

According to the article 5 Steps to Developing a Lifelong Habit of Learning published on Cornerstone:

  • “Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading five newspapers and 500 pages of corporate reports (early in his investing career he would read 1,000 pages). 
  • Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. In a 2016 New York Times interview, he said, “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.” 
  • Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks. His 2015 emphasis was learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies. 
  • Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day, according to his brother, and taught himself engineering and rocket design.”

What is apparent is that the most successful people have a persistent commitment to learning and seeking new knowledge. Whilst five hours a day to read newspapers is unrealistic for most, what we can emulate from these people is the integration of learning into daily life.

To do so, begin by identifying your learning objectives. What are the passions and interests you wish to explore? What would you like to understand more about yourself? What knowledge could give you a competitive edge in the workplace?

Once you have established what you would like to learn, set realistic goals. Can you invest one hour a day into your learning? Perhaps it’s 5 pages of a book each night. What about fifteen minutes of meditation and fifteen minutes of journaling to begin each day?

In order to make learning habitual it must be realistic and therefore align with your lifestyle and other commitments. Access to knowledge and information is a privilege, so relish in the experience of learning. Let new knowledge pique your curiosity, document it securely, share it with other passionate lifelong learners, and access information from a rich and diverse range of resources.

Man reading book for lifelong learning and to acquire new knowledge

Employ tools for lifelong learning

Of course, there are tools to facilitate and help make lifelong learning habitual.

myhaventime is a mindful multimedia platform created to support lifelong learning and accelerate the learning cycle. It is designed to store our best insights, information and resources, whilst encouraging focus and deep thought as the conduit for new ideas and insights.

Whether myhaventime is used to explore topics related to personal growth and self-awareness, or for professional and educational purposes, myhaven’s inbuilt virtual learning coach allows you to set subtle, recurring prompts to remind us to keep learning, documenting new information and think deeply in order to form new insights.

It provides a calm space away from the white noise of our busy lives where ideas, knowledge and insights can be securely captured, built upon and shared over time - whether that is a journal entry about a personal revelation had, or creating an archive of resources for an upcoming project.

If you, too, have experienced some profound learnings during lockdown that you would like to capture and build upon, or if you are newly committed to lifelong learning and could use some support, discover myhaventime. 

Try it free for 30 days now

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