4 tips to make lifelong learning work for you

The American moral and social philosopher, Eric Hoffer, once said: “In times of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” In a world where the working environment as we know it is drastically changing, this statement couldn’t be more relevant.

Eighty-five percent of the jobs we’ll be doing in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, meaning that the traditional education model is no longer enough to adapt and thrive as a professional. The reality is that workers, even those who may have been encouraged to attend and graduate from university, will be entering companies that are under constant pressure to evolve in ways that are still unknown to all involved.

What we do know is the workplace of today and even tomorrow is fast-paced and driven by innovation, forcing people to learn ‘in the moment’ using new technologies to gain new knowledge. It’s time for individuals to get ready for a lifetime of skills training and retraining, and in real time.

But while the evolution of technology and increasing globalization is forcing organizations to change – and change fast – this leaves little time for investment in higher education and training in the workplace. In fact, it’s been reported that the federal government spends over $180 billion on higher education, but only about $12 billion on training and employment programs per year. This model just isn’t feasible in today’s workplace, because the pace at which we must all adopt new concepts, ideas and technologies mean the mind-shift must change: the new education paradigm is to become a self-driven lifelong learner. Or simply, learning how to learn continuously.

Learning how to learn throughout work life is essential to keeping up with changes in the market. While it seems many organizations are not properly training employees, and educational systems are poorly preparing students, the onus is on the individual to take charge of their own professional development.

Here are tips for how to stay relevant:

Curate your own learning path – it’s the journey

Acceptance and understanding of the need to evolve and change are key, and that can mean the need to approach situations in a different way. Lifelong learners should see themselves as a constant work in progress and set professional goals for what they’d like to achieve on a regular basis. While previously you might have looked at your skills and pitched yourself for a career that you were already trained for, try to approach your current capabilities as a starting point.

See your potential as open-ended and any challenges you might face in the process as opportunities for growth. Once you have fixed your mindset and set your goals, you can then analyze your current skill set and pinpoint the gaps that need addressing to get you there.

These “micro-credentials” will come together to create a much more tailored educational experience than the traditional approach, making you unique – an appealing concept in a competitive job market.

Plus, by really breaking down your professional profile in this way, you’re not only making yourself a more rounded employment prospect, but you’re also actively building a pathway to a more fulfilling career.

Stay in the zone

The most successful people in the world didn’t get to where they are by playing it safe. Once you’ve adjusted your thinking of what is possible, you now need to push yourself into learning, and having the right framework to approach learning can help.

One way to think about it is through a concept educators call the zone of proximal development, which breaks up learning into three categories of tasks; what you can do on your own, what you can only do with help, and things you can’t do at all, even with assistance.

While the relative stress associated with learning a new skill can initially cause an uplift in performance, taking on tasks you can’t do at your current skill level can cause stress and have the reverse effect. Lifelong learning programs give you the freedom to choose. By understanding where a task falls, you can set the right pace based on your needs and other commitments.

Seek out coaches

Teachers are no longer just the people that stand at the front of the classroom in school and colleges. Teachers are all around us as the innovators of tomorrow, in the form of guides, mentors, fellow learners, and most importantly coaches

As lifelong learners, feedback from these people is a critical component in our professional development, and it’s important we seek it out, as well as give it in return if required.

Join a community of people who share your common goals. Classrooms are no longer physical spaces but found in all aspects of day-to-day life. And remember feedback is a gift.

Invest in yourself

Building market-relevant skills don’t happen overnight, nor does it happen within the time usually allowed by formal learning situations.

Therefore, it’s important that people see it as their responsibility to future-proof themselves in an ever-changing job market, by setting aside more personal time for learning and, where necessary, making financial investments too. Think of it like a fitness plan you really commit to or brushing your teeth every day—you are setting aside 30 minutes every day for self-improvement.

When people do make the time to learn, they will reap the rewards many times over in their professional career.

Employers play an integral and vital role in workforce training, but workers must take it upon themselves to acquire new skills and seek out new learning opportunities over the course of their careers. Companies of the future will embrace candidates who may not have a traditional educational path but are still well-qualified. It’s time to stop evaluating employees as the sum of their resume and start evaluating their ability as lifelong learners.


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