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Being a Continual Learner

The powerful quote, “tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn” has been attributed to Alvin Toffler (although this is unconfirmed).

Continual learning is not simply acquiring new skills or accumulating facts, it is a daily frame of mind that includes curiosity, critical thinking, reflection, and more.

We are in a unique age in which access to information is routine for most of us. Information can be retrieved as quickly as you can type on, or speak to, your smartphone. However, retrieving information is not the continual learning I’m referring to.

Where does learning take place? Learning is not confined to formal settings such as universities, workplaces, and classrooms. Learning is everywhere when you anticipate it. It’s in your home, car, community, imagination, and on and on.

How do you position yourself as a continual learner?

A continual learner must first have curiosity. This curiosity includes a willingness to recognize you don’t know, and being willing to be wrong and having your view of the world challenged.

You need to be present in the world. This means watching, listening, reflecting upon your experiences, and asking questions. Begin the day asking why and how of the world. Make a goal of truly inquiring from someone daily. Do this at work, the coffee shop, with your friends and family, and anyone! Don’t passively listen to people around you; ask open ended and deep questions, you might be surprised of the answers if you listen.

Remove clutter and noise. Consider how you spend your down time. Eliminate senseless noise and make space to pause and reflect. Start a journal in which you write some notes about your day, the learning that took place, and your curiosities.

Join or create a learning community. Take a MOOC and meet with fellow learners in your area, join or start a Meetup, or use any means to make your learning social and full of rich dialogue. Learning communities can be formed around a curiosity, a podcast, a book, or just about anything. Be strategic with this by engaging in topics and people outside of your usual comfort zone.

Being a continual learner begins with a curiosity and grows as you continue to seek and explore. Now, go forth and learn! I’d love to hear your experiences as a continual learner.