In one of his sayings, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) emphasised that learning is from the cradle to the grave. By this, he was suggesting that learning is a lifelong phenomenon and that one should remain a student or learner throughout life to attain life’s full potential, the highest need that Abraham Maslow identified in his Hierarchy of Needs.
By definition, lifelong learning means a life-wide and ceaseless commitment to enriching oneself with knowledge. This takes place at all stages of life cycle, at home, in school, at the workplace and in the community. Lifelong learning is therefore the continuous development of skills and knowledge to enhance quality of life and employment prospects, as Community and Social Enterprise Partnership (CSEP) construes it.
The same way that a body that is not engaged in physical exercises weakens with time and dies slowly, a mind that is not engaged in continuous learning is deficient of nutrients, hence it quickly loses its vitality. Living lifelong learning is a way of coping with and adapting to a world that is always evolving, a planet that is sustained by its ability refresh itself. As Michelangelo said at the age of 87, “I’m still learning”; so, no one should ever be scared or ashamed of being a learner.
The importance of lifelong learning cannot be over-emphasised in today’s world of increasing distraction and misplaced priorities. Yet, it is the age of globalisation and rapidly evolving technologies which make it imperative for individuals and organisations to maximize their ability to learn, learning being a sine qua non to continuous improvement, operational excellence and innovation, as pointed out by Edward Hess in his 2014 book, Learn or Die.
Students, who are supposed to lead the present and future generations out of our current doldrums, are merely interested in schooling, not learning. This is why for many of them, learning ends with passing a course and graduating from an educational institution. This tendency is why many graduates are not employable because job readiness and concentration required in school were sacrificed at the altar of being ‘woke’. Whereas, being ready in today’s world, as Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, revealed, requires three secrets which include becoming an ‘expert-generalist’, improving one’s ‘learning transfer’ skills and viewing knowledge as a ‘semantic tree’. No knowledge is monolithic.
Fortunately, the smart phone is an invaluable tool of achieving this purpose but it is a double-edged sword. While some youth and people use the smart phone to enrich their knowledge, promote their business, develop their skills and sustain life-enhancing networks, many people only use the smart phone to fritter away valuable time. There are students and adults who spend several hours hopping from one chat room to another, chatting needlessly and commenting frivolously on every post they come across. At the end of the day, they find it difficult to place a finger on what they have achieved in a day or a week.
As lifelong learning is crucial and critical to attaining one’s life goals and even achieving inner peace, there are certain activities that everyone should engage in. This is because troubled minds mostly are deprived of soul-lifting insights that would only be available from religious and inspirational literature. Ten of these ways of attaining one’s goals discussed by Andrea Leyden are that you read widely and often; keep smart company; teach others; keep a list of things you want to explore; start your own project; use a personal learning environment; experiment with new ways to learn; join a study group; find a job that encourages learning and collaboration and make it a priority!
While these are straightforward points to imbibe, it may be reiterated that some of them are fundamental. Reading is emphasised as it is a key component of lifelong learning and it is because of it that readers are leaders wherever they are. And, as it said, “show me your friends and I tell you who you are”, the company you keep is a reflection of your character and it is key that you keep friends that enrich and add value to your life both online and offline.
As I noted in “Your Time Is Your Life” at the beginning of this year, there should be a to-do list that would guide on making everyday count for you and there should be no room for undue delay. Making what you have to do a priority entails being focused rather than engaging in procrastination, which is described as the thief of time.