Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Learning for Living...

flickr CC image via scratanut

Learning for living... Find something you love to do, then find a way to make money doing it"


Life long learning is a phrase being used a lot lately. Educators everywhere are working hard to support life-long learning. They are responding to the perceived need in contemporary society for kids to become life-long learners in preparation for the twenty-first century... but what is a life-long learner, and furthermore, what is twenty-first century learning? 

I am wondering if the impact of both these terms is becoming neutralized by a lack of clarity and context. How we frame learning is key if we intend to create substance around these terms, and then once we have a clear grasp of learning, we can begin to contextualize a platform of support that sustains it over a lifetime that for the vast majority of us, will not extend beyond the 21st Century making life-long learning, and 21st Century learning, somewhat synonymous. 

The learning stages we experience over our lifespan can be fractalized into any number of divisions... by school years, chronological age, daily... even minute by minute. I am of the opinion that preparing "learners" (every single one of us from the moment we are conceived) to be "life-long learners" is akin to teaching water how to flow. We are, therefore we learn. Supporting the natural tendency to learn is a whole different story. We can, and should be thinking seriously about how we support learning that reflects our innate desire to learn; to navigate the world we live in.
“School environments should be designed to enhance the development of student brains – and student brains are about movement, not motionless stagnation.” — Robert Sylwester
More than any other biological species, it appears that humans are born to learn. We learn in so many different, and natural contexts.  We are in constant motion; traveling in simultaneous physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive realms. Robert Sylwester characterizes this need to be in motion ...
The planning, regulation, and prediction of movements are the principal reasons for a brain. Plants are as biologically successful as animals, but they don’t have a brain. An organism that’s not going anywhere of its own volition doesn’t need a brain. It doesn’t even need to know where it is. What’s the point? Being an immobile plant does have its advantages however. Plants don’t have to get up every day and go to work because they’re already there.
On the other hand, if an organism has legs, wings, or fins, it needs a sensory system that will inform it about here and there, a make-up-its-mind system to determine whether here is better than there or there is better than here, and a motor system to get it to there if that’s the better choice – as it is, alas, when we have to go to work.
Yes we do. Each of us is responsible for our livelihood, and for supporting those who depend on us for support and care. Acquiring the skills necessary to fulfill this responsibility is a challenge for all of us.

In my youth, my mom used to tell me that the secret to achieving career happiness is to find something you love to do, and then find a way to make money doing it; pretty good advice, that. We're all on a journey to discover our passions... to me this is a good way to contextualize life-long learning- the process of finding our passions, and then pursuing them in the effort to become viable, self-sufficient members of society.

I think Sylwesters' rationalization for the existence of the human brain supports this context. Our brain enables us to create a purpose for navigating the world in search of a better "place" (aka job, relationship, education, place to live, social/emotional wellness, physical health etc.) for ourselves, and those we care for who depend on us. This movement, in my view, can also be called learning; the conduit that makes life interesting and rewarding... and that allows us to pursue success as we navigate our personal learning journeys.

Acquiring knowledge, skills and attitudes that allow us to be in positive motion toward better places is the purpose of learning in the 21st Century.
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