Why I think lifelong learning is more important than ever. And how you should go about doing it.

By | 22nd March 2016

I’m under 30 years of age, so in career terms many would still class me as being relatively young. But during my – so-called – short-lived time, I’ve already had three separate – but nearly all related – careers.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to have experienced this type of career path. And I do believe, what with the world of work changing in the way it is – predominantly through new technologies and new generations – the career path I have described above, will likely become the norm.

Instead of rising through the ranks, taking the pre-determined ‘secure’ career route. Careers, I think, will involve more radical progression; transitions, pivots (yep, that word), even complete career reinventions – these are what will be required to build a successful and importantly, interesting career in the future of work.

I recently read (and skimmed) an article that touched upon the importance of pivoting in your career. Within it, the author used an analogy that really resonated with me, and I’m sure will do so with you too.

Think of your career like a smart phone not a ladder: your education and your upbringing is your out-of-the-box model, and it’s up to you to download the apps that will help you feel fulfilled and build an energising body of work. Just as with your phone, it’s important to recharge, clear clutter, and upgrade your entire Operating System when you outgrow the original.

(Jenny Blake, Pivot 2016)

I think the above quote brilliantly depicts how we should now be viewing our careers. And along with my views that I opened this article with, I’ve hopefully sufficiently set the scene to lead into what I think is the most important ingredient needed for a successful career: (although the biggest clue is in the title…)

LEARNING. Well, more specifically ‘LIFELONG LEARNING’.


Why is lifelong learning so important?

It’s safe to say, the concept of lifelong learning isn’t a new one. We each – perhaps unwittingly – partake in it to some degree. For example, away from work and as a consumer, you are continually learning how to use new or changing pieces of technology, or maybe even learning how to make a new food dish to hopefully impress your other half with.

Your other half may become merely disappointed if your ‘dinner repertoire’ never truly expands beyond a few basic dishes. But if this approach to learning is also seen within your professional life, then you can expect to experience far more serious repercussions  – especially so now, for a number of key reasons:

  1. Technology

Technology is permeating near enough every aspect of work. Processes and ways of working are being revolutionised through digital technologies – apps, the use of wearable devices etc. Failure to master the use of these new technologies can severely impact upon your ability to perform your role at the level required. You therefore face the very real danger of getting ‘left behind’ during the digital transformation of your organisation.

Technological developments are not only helping to improve the way you carry out parts of your role, they also threaten to carry out your role in its ENTIRETY.

Groundbreaking advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are helping to usher in the ‘automation era’. An era where, any role that can be automated – carried out by machines – will be. And the amount of roles this applies to will only ever increase in number due to the growing intelligence of machines.

Machines are learning. You need to outlearn them in order to survive.

One other thing technology has done is helped to improve the accessibility of learning. For example Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) have revolutionised learning, with there being no limit to the amount of people who can take part in specific learning courses. Improved access to learning is of course great. But on the flip side, it also means others – those you will be competing with for work/jobs – have the same opportunities to learn as you do.

Others are learning. You need to outlearn them in order to survive.

 

  1. Knowledge is the primary source of value in today’s world

Innovation has become the only sustainable competitive advantage for today’s organisations and so a key driver for business success. Innovation is achieved through the application of knowledge, meaning innovation and knowledge are intertwined – that’s why I’m a big fan of the following quote:
The only long-term sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than your competitors.

(Arie de Geus, Former head of Strategic Planning for Royal Dutch/Shell Oil)

The above quote holds even more significance due to the rapidly shrinking life of knowledge, known as the ‘half-life of knowledge’. The half-life of knowledge is basically the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete.

Where once the life of knowledge was viewed in decades, it is now measured in months and years. Another clear reason why lifelong learning is required…

We are on the cusp of the most dramatic change to the world of work that there has ever been. The best way to cope with the expected change is to plan and prepare for it. That is why lifelong learning is so important. Now I’m going to touch upon how best to do it.


My top 11 lifelong learning tips (the one’s I use)

 

  1. Learn with purposeMuch like any business should have a clear business roadmap in place, so too should you as an individual. By identifying what it is you want to achieve, it will become clear as to what you need to learn in order to do so.

    2. Don’t rush into learning. 

    Identifying want you want to achieve and then the best way of doing so, isn’t something that you can quickly and easily do. Take the time to be sure that the learning you are about to invest in is best suited to satisfying your roadmap’s objectives.

    3. Learn as you do

    The best way of learning is to ‘learn as you do’ by being an active part in the learning process. It’s why you should give yourself a real world problem to solve – a problem that is tied to a learning goal. It’s why passive learning, the type where someone merely tries to impart his or her knowledge onto you in a lecture-like one-way type of approach, isn’t the best way of learning.

    The more involved you are in the learning process the better. Even when undertaking online learning courses, you should be solving problems to learn, not just consuming content. It goes back to that age-old quote from Benjamin Franklin:

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn

  1. Get yourself a side project. Linked to ‘learning as you do’, undertaking a side project will allow you to continually solve real world problems that are linked to your specific learning goals. It’s why a side project is also a great vehicle to use to propel you along your career path – one that can even transform into your career.

    5. Try to apply your new knowledge immediately and regularly 

    Knowledge gained from learning can be easily lost when it is not immediately and continually applied. Regularly applying knowledge also provides you with the opportunity to further enhance your learning, by understanding and analysing the outcomes and feedback. It’s why you should also not fear failure or criticism – they are crucial components of effective learning.

    6. Do more collaborative learning.

    Giving a good enough answer as to why I think you should do more collaborative learning is beyond the scope of this article, but something I will cover in the future.

    Briefly put, I find collaborative learning particularly beneficial because the opinions and ideas of others often force me to rethink my viewpoint, which invariably leads to better ideas/answers and in doing so, improving my learning experience.

    I’m also able to learn from others when I’m not even a part of the collaborative process. The outcomes from collaboration can be shared through social technologies, from which conversations and collaboration can continue, meaning learning is on going.

    7. Make time.

    Hopefully you should know that ‘I don’t have time to learn’ is utter rubbish. It’s the grown up way of saying ‘I can’t be bothered’. Those who do find themselves using a lack of time as an excuse, likely do so because they’re organisational and time management skills require improvement.

    Adding time to your day by dragging yourself out of bed that little bit earlier, is also another great way to make time for learning, as it has less of an impact on your other professional and personal commitments.

    Another great way to maximise your time, is to identify pockets of time that you could make better use of. The commute is one of these. I turn to podcasts when on my commute. You should give it a go, if you’re not already doing so.

    8. You don’t ask, you don’t get

    Whether it is approaching a possible mentor, reaching out to someone to collaborate with on a side-project, or if you’re in a company and they don’t have a structured learning program in place, asking for one – you don’t ask you don’t get. Learning is no exception from the rule.

    9. Ensure that you’re pushing yourself. 

    You must be challenging yourself in order to improve. But know your level. Too hard and you’ll risk not learning anything, instead just feeling frustrated and unmotivated. Too easy and you’ll not realise your full learning potential.

    10. Try to keep things fun and enjoyable

    You need to make learning a habit. Habits are easily formed and harder to break when they are fun and enjoyable. Learning can be made to be fun by mixing it up, keeping it fresh and doing it with others.

    It’s also important to remember that you should be learning things in accordance with your personal roadmap. Your roadmap should be focussed on the achievement of a career that you are passionate about. That for me is a key ingredient and driving factor as to why I have a ferocious appetite for learning what it is I do – passion.

To Conclude…

Learning is one of the most important investments you can make. But as with any investment, success should be evaluated based on the return made.

However, when it comes to lifelong learning you should not view the return in a financial sense. Instead, you should evaluate the success of your learning based on whether it has allowed you to satisfy an objective on your roadmap – enabling you to move further along on your journey in reaching your ultimate goal.

By helping you to achieve your ultimate goal/objective, the return experienced from lifelong learning is one that you can’t put a price on.

I’ll end with another quote that I’m a big fan of. It comes from W. Edwards Deming, who said:

“Learning is not compulsory…

… Neither is survival”

Now, go and get your learning on!

Cheers

Lloyd

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