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Lifelong Learning


Sometime around the middle of the 20th century, people were getting the idea that "lifelong learning" consisted of mostly cake decorating classes at the local YMCA, pottery painting at the local "old folks homes," and spending the rest of your life trying to wade through the library of Great Books. Lifelong learning was optional, largely informal, potentially practical, but classified as more of a hobby than a life-altering process.

That all changed very dramatically sometime around the beginning of the new millennium. Social, technological, political, and economic chaos totally revised the meaning and significance of the term, "lifelong learning." It was no  longer an option or hobby. It was no longer a something that was done to keep idle hands and minds busy. Rather, it became a vital key for personal survival in an unstable, unpredictable world of work.

Today it is often said that many of the things college freshmen learn in their science and technology courses will be obsolete when they graduate at the end of  their fourth or fifth years. That might be stretching the point a bit, but it is nevertheless a very real point.

Assignment: Think of a few common occupations that required working with computers, specialized tools, chemical products, travel, organizing and servicing groups of people. That sort of thing. Not PhD stuff. Consider ordinary working people such as hairdressers, emergency medical personnel, police, construction workers, and so on. Every few months, something new comes along in these jobsa new product, a new procedure, a new set of qualifications. Take some time to think about this. If your mind is pliable and suitable for the way things are today, you will soon find more examples that you care to track.

If you are still unsure of the essential truth of this matter, consider high school and college graduates who are adequately educated for their chosen profession or career path. Then visit them a decade or so later. If they have not raised the standard of the knowledge, they are either on welfare or working at an entirely different (and less demanding) job, and probably just "getting along,"  Clearly, "keeping up with the times," is essential.

In the past, employers could keep their people up to date by engaging them in seminars or training sessions. And even more so today, a common "job benefit" is full or shared tuition and time away from the job for attending classes at at local colleges and universities or, of course, online. But in so many occupations today, the pace of change is so rapid and deep that employees would have to spend a significant share of their  workweek in classes, rather than doing productive work for the company. So obviously, there has to be a limit to the amount of time anyone can spend taking formal courses.

The one-time major education experiences of the past, namely public school and college, are no longer sustainable. And neither are the up-to-date courses available today. Your personal career security and growth, and therefore the quality of your life, depend upon continual learning. And it's a really big mistake to wait around, expecting someone to pay for it.

There is one more angle that must be considered here: Your "retirement" years. Globally, social security systems for the elderly are inadequate at best and generally non-existent. In the USA, the generation reaching retirement age about the time of the Great Recession (2007-09) found the advice of their retirement planners to be worse than worthless. Now we are hearing nothing more than a warmed-over version of "real estate is one really certain investment for your future."  Count on this for your retirement: You will have no social security and can't possibly accumulate enough wealth to play mahjong or golf every day with your buddies, travel the world, and maintain a reasonably healthy lifestyle for the 30-plus years of your "retirement."  I seriously doubt you will find many help-wanted ads 80-year-olds, even in the mid-21st century. You are going to have to fend for yourself when corporate employment is no longer feasible or possible.  You are going to be on your own, and you have to make it  work. Enter:  Learning to learn, and lifelong learning.

Learning to Learn

The success of a lifelong learning program, or healthy habit, depends on the quality of learning. Knowing how to learn is actually more critical that the things to be learned. (This is because if you know how to learn, you can learn anything you need or want to know, and so on ...). The first problem with this whole idea is that so  many people, even some "well-educated" people, don't really know how to learn. Worse yet, many don't know that they don't know how to learn.

No one is really to blame for an almost-total lack of understanding about personal learning processes. Our systems of education, worldwide, exercise a centuries-old protocol for packaging and presenting knowledge. It boils down to this: "We teach; You learn" One of the natural corollaries is: "You do well,  and we give you a cookie; You do poorly, and we throw you under the societal bus."

The message shines through quite clearly, from preschool through undergraduate college. (The game begins to change at the graduate school level, where academic competence, creativity, and higher levels of learning become the norm).

All of this to say that Free-Ed.Net takes on the difficult task of encouraging users how to think and learn on their own. Like so many mysteries of life, the issue isn't inherently complicated and difficult to understand, but simply ... well, different from the ordinary. Anything that is out of the ordinary might be called extraordinary. The stuff we encourage you to discover for yourself is, indeed, extraordinary. Knowing how to learn, and exercising that knowledge as though your life depended on it, is one of the goals here.

Just for the Record

I have no intention of demonizing teachers and school systems. There are worlds of teachers who care for their students and find ways to illuminate standards and principles for successful living in a complex world. All this aside from and beyond the scope of the formal curriculum.

A traditional course or study program is packaged in such a manner as to emphasize the content and make the journey as simple and as possible. The student's objective is to absorb the content as effectively as possible and move along to the next course of study. It is risky for a student to stray from the prescribed path in pursuit of lively little bits of knowledge and questions that aren't included in the syllabus; regressing to the days of our infancy when we were free to pursue any thought or notion with great concentration and passion ... and at an incredibly high rate of learning.




David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015