Lifelong Learning Changes Minds and Professions

He nailed it. How can we begin to change the minds of people who are not lifelong learners?

This astute professor and researcher had obviously participated in too many meetings where this particular profession talked about the future and people lapsed into the usual litany of ways to change the profession. As soon as he was bold enough to name the problem, I realized just how right he was. I’ve seen this litany many times myself.

  • We’ve got to change the way we educate people for this profession. The result of this solution is curriculum obesity, more degree requirements and even requirements for more advanced degrees. You can never teach enough in school and new knowledge is always emerging.
  • We’ve got to change the laws, regulations or licensing requirements to allow us to do this. The result of this thinking is a protracted process at best and quite often paralysis. Laws and regulations do not lead practice; they attempt to codify practices that have worked in the past.
  • We’ve got to embrace new technologies. This is only a partial solution that works around the edges of many problems. Without the full understanding of the possibilities for any technology, the user is only a technician following procedures.
  • We’ve got to collaborate better with other professionals. Interdisciplinary learning is powerful but it will only get you so far unless most of the parties are willing and ready to do things in new ways.

Professions will change, as this wise man observed, when the people in them open their minds and commit to lifelong learning. Until they do this, they are really just obstructing their own path. And he told his colleagues quite bluntly, we say we are lifelong learners but very few really are.

Lifelong learners strive to stay up to date with the latest theories, science and technologies. They are more likely to organize their learning around the challenges and opportunities they see every day. If they confront a problem they can’t solve, they start researching and reaching out to others who may know.

Many lifelong learners are not the least bit rigid about who can teach them something important. They love to learn from other disciplines and adapt this knowledge and practices to their work. Curiosity and openness to new ideas are at the heart of most innovative thinking.

What’s also true about lifelong learners is they do not wait until they are told what to think. They are the ones who learn by doing and that doing creates the momentum that leads to change.