by Dr. Hank Kelly, OCU Provost
As the soil of the Earth needs to be fed to blossom, our brains are the absorbent sponge waiting to be fed with new ideas and concepts. Water it daily to stimulate growth, and you will yield a bountiful harvest of information and knowledge. –Matt Mayberry
An education is important and prepares you to succeed in life, but if you do not continue to learn, increasing in knowledge and skills, you will eventually stagnate. All too often promising leaders plateau early in their careers—because they stopped learning. Even if you never change jobs again, your job will continue to change. As a result, your strengths and weaknesses, relative to the needs of your job, are changing. Those who do not continuously learn will be left behind by those who are learning. As Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
Lifelong learners acquire information that enables them to do things that they couldn’t do previously. Additionally, they are more motivated for everyday activities, develop mental and thinking skills, add fun to their lives, and make new friends. Finally, the professional benefits to lifelong learners include having more options for further employment, being in a better position than their competitors, and becoming better employees.
Lifelong learning is so important at OCU that one of the University’s Objectives is to “Demonstrate academic scholarship that creates a foundation for lifelong intellectual and professional development.” OCU is producing self-directed, lifelong learners. How is this achieved? Most importantly, our faculty model lifelong learning.
Other ways this is achieved are many:
- Students apply what they learn, not just acquire information.
- Students engage in discussions to create curiosity.
- Students are introduced to their chosen profession and what is required to succeed.
- Faculty help students find their passions.
- Students are assigned real-world case studies and try to solve real-world problems.
- Students learn it is OK to try and fail, encouraging a "growth mindset," as advocated by Carol Dweck.
- Students broaden their horizons by exposure to people and situations outside their "comfort zone."
- Students discuss current events.
- They perform research and discern good from bad information.
- They learn to read and write critically.
Here are some ways to become accomplished at lifelong learning:
- Read a variety of books, fiction and non-fiction, on a broad range of topics. As Charles Scribner, Jr. said: “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” Personally, I highlight important points in books I read. Then I type up the words highlighted so that I can study them—not just read them.
- Watch TED talks, webinars, and other videos. Listen to podcasts or political debates on talk radio. Read blogs. Take a MOOC (massive open online course). Watch movies. All of these activities help you see the world from different perspectives.
- Attend conferences/seminars/workshops.
- Ask questions of skilled people. As Charles Lamb said: “We gain nothing by being with such as ourselves. We encourage one another in mediocrity. I am always longing to be with men more excellent than myself.” Questions to ask during a learning session, according to John Maxwell:
- What is the greatest lesson you have learned?
- What are you learning now?
- What have you read that I should read?
- Seek out a coach or mentor.
- Seek feedback from your supervisor, subordinates, and peers.
- Coach others.
- Take on more responsibility in your job, church, or other organization in which you are involved.
- Take up a hobby.
- When you encounter new information, think about what you believe and why. Question and research the information.
- Finally, ask yourself the question: What did I learn? According to John Maxwell, “Experience isn’t the best teacher—evaluated experience is.” Always have a journal with you and write down each meeting you have with peers and business associates. Keep track of what you discussed so you can look back at what you learned and what transpired. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t.
Do you want to be more successful and have more fun in life? Being a lifelong learner will help you do both. I encourage you to incorporate some of these suggested methods of learning. Find out what works for you. My last advice is: Step out of your "comfort zone."
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