by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD
Becoming a seeker of lifelong learning is critical in today’s fast-changing world. Learning is not only a matter of absorbing information but a process of developing many other internal skills, like curiosity, perseverance, and the ability to tackle tough challenges.
Thanks to research in neuroscience and human development, scientists can now explain how learning happens from cradle to grave. It turns out that lifelong learning is a natural part of being alive.
When we think of scholars like Socrates, Einstein, or Aristotle, we are reminded of great learners and their eternal quest for knowledge. But how do we develop the quest for lifelong learning in children and teens – the internal drive that propels them to embrace the practice of learning throughout a lifetime?
The thirst for lifelong learning is natural to the human species. Unfortunately, by fourth grade, education can lessen the desire to learn for many children. Jay Trevaskis, a teacher in Sydney, Australia, provides an illuminating example of how education can diminish enthusiasm and curiosity in his article, How School Can Kill the Desire to Learn. While there are no easy answers to this dilemma, we need to find better ways to prepare young people for the lifelong learning process.
All too often, we focus on how well children are taught rather than on how well they learn. Many young people have survived poor educations because they discovered what it meant to learn. They discovered that learning happens on the inside, that grades cannot measure true learning.
As children develop toward adolescence changes occur in the brain that heightens their abilities to learn. Teens become capable of thinking more critically, solving more complex problems, and weighing difficult decisions. But in order to utilize these new abilities for lifelong learning teens must be internally motivated. They must learn because it feels good, not just because they want to get accepted at a good college. The preparation for lifelong learning starts at a young age.
Below are six quotes from people who understood the value and complexity of lifelong learning. Their wisdom has remained relevant through the ages.
Lifelong Learning Quotes
“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” – Albert Einstein
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates
“We learn from failure, not from success!” – Bram Stoker
“Change is the end result of all true learning.” – Leo Buscaglia
“Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain.” – Aristotle
Three Ways to Prepare Children for Lifelong Learning
1. Ask Questions
Learning is facilitated through the kind of questioning described by teacher Jay Trevaskis in the article mentioned above. Rather than giving answers, adults help children become lifelong learners by helping them identify questions that pique their curiosity. When we help young people make associations between what they are studying at school and the world outside of the classroom, they learn that everything in the universe is connected, that lifelong learning is an endless process.
2. Let Them Fail
Most adults know that learning occurs when we are willing to risk failure. But with today’s focus on high-stakes testing, many parents feel the need to protect their children and teens from setbacks and failure.
Middle school teacher Jessica Lahey wrote about the fallacy of this type of thinking in her recent article at The Atlantic, Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail. Her wise words, “This setback will be the best thing that ever happened to your child,” is a concept supported by research over and over again.
With caring and encouragement, adults can help young people use mistakes and failures to facilitate lifelong learning. Like Aristotle believed, there is often pain involved. And that’s a good thing. For ten parenting guidelines that help kids learn from mistakes, check out my article at Psychology Today, Mistakes Improve Children’s Learning.
3. Give them Learning Experiences
Learning through experience, not just from books, is one of the best ways to give youth the skills they need for lifelong learning, living, and working in the 21st century. Particularly in the teen years, service-learning provides experiences that nurture critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and the ability to see the world as an interconnected community. We prepare children for positive service-learning experiences in elementary school, through projects that involve them in their communities.