Lifelong Learning for Career Advancement

Successful employees must accept the challenge of self-directed learning

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | October 24, 2017

I recently began reading Samuel A. Malone’s, “Awaken the Genius Within – A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills.” Malone is a veteran training consultant practicing in the U.K., who has authored 20 books.

I was impressed with Malone’s use of the acronym P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E-D as a tool to help people remember how to become lifelong learners. The following excerpt from Malone’s work is especially appropriate for employees and those of us whose learning is now more self-directed than classroom-based.

Priority

Make the practice of lifelong learning a priority. Set aside at least half an hour a day to build up the knowledge and skill for the expertise you need to acquire. Nothing will happen unless you make it happen and put in the effort.

Reflect

Reflect on what you’ve learned. Build review periods into your learning. Information is quickly forgotten unless reviewed, and skills fall into decay unless practiced. Observe how others learn, and model the behavior of the best learners. Continuous improvement and lifelong learning should be your goal.

Action learning

We learn best by doing things, and we acquire new skills by doing things repeatedly. Most skills take a considerable amount of time to acquire and perfect. World-class musicians hone their skills up to eight hours a day. Athletes constantly practice and have sports psychologists to advise, direct, and motivate them. Professional golfers finish 18 holes and then head to the driving range to practice.

Curiosity

We should always consider questions such as how, what, and why. It’s through questions and seeking answers that we learn. Develop your powers of creativity by looking for alternative ways to do things or solve problems. Albert Einstein wisely maintained that asking questions and imagination were more important than intelligence.

Teach

A great way to learn is to teach others as it utilizes and reinforces our knowledge. We can do this by showing other people how to do things, and by demonstrating, coaching, and mentoring. Many famous people maintain that they would not have succeeded in life to the extent that they did without the services of a good mentor.

Insight

Insight occurs as we look at the same things as everybody else but see differences and unique patterns. Many people saw the apple fall, but it was only Isaac Newton, through insight and reflection, who discovered the laws of gravity. Similarly, many scientific discoveries have happened through unique insight. People who make great discoveries by chance have the judgment and persistence to pursue the idea to fruition.

Concentration

We must further develop our ability to concentrate if we want to learn and excel. Having goals, listening attentively, and dealing with distractions effectively are just some of the ways you can improve your concentration.

Exercise and nutrition

Build in periods of daily exercise into your habits so you will keep mentally and physically fit. Physical exercise induces the body to produce an array of chemicals that the brain and, indeed, the heart love. The brain, as well as the body, thrives on oxygen and proper nutrition. The brain needs a nutritious diet to survive and thrive.

Different learning styles

There are different learning styles, but most of us use a combination of these. Academics have classified learning styles in different ways. One popular method can be recalled by the acronym, VAT, which stands for visual, audial, and tactile. Stated simply, we learn by seeing, hearing, and doing. Another classification is Activist, Reflector, Theorist, and Pragmatist. In other words, we do something, think about it, understand it, and then based on our understanding, we may do it differently. These are among the styles that help us learn effectively.

If you’re going to become a lifelong learner, embrace the reality that learning is a journey and not a destination. Libraries and online resources offer a wealth of print and video resources to supplement your learning at any point in your career. If your lifelong learning is going to be self-directed, you must take responsibility for assessing your own educational needs. By doing so, lifelong learning becomes even more advantageous as you experience further career progress.

David Cox

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