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Being a lifelong learner is a common phrase you hear in education and employment. With many jobs seeing dramatic advances due to technology and disruption, individuals who embrace being a lifelong learner will have a distinct advantage in the labor market. Being a lifelong learner is defined as seeking opportunities to develop and grow personally and professionally that occur outside of formal education. Whether you are learning a new hobby or developing a new professional skill there are specific strategies to utilize that will increase your enjoyment of learning.
Here are a few practical tips to follow to increase your learning as a professional.
1. Approach learning with an open mind.
Approaching learning with an open mind will increase intellectual curiosity by helping to develop a mindset focused on asking questions and understanding underlying processes. Having an open mind will also help in recognizing limitations in one’s knowledge and personal biases, thus decreasing personal blind spots.
2. Create a schedule for professional development.
Learning is enhanced when individuals can create a schedule or habit of spreading out learning over multiple days at shorter durations. This principle is similar to cramming where having longer and more concentrated periods of learning does not produce encoding information into long term memory. Spreading out learning allows individuals more time to review, reflect, and apply concepts to new situations.
3. Use questions to help remember and reinforce new concepts.
When learning something new it is important to be able to define or describe new concepts. For example, learning a new counseling theory requires an individual to be able to define and describe key concepts. After being exposed to a new concept, be prepared to answer the following questions: what is the definition of “X” counseling theory or describe the key principles of “X” counseling theory. Being able to define a new concept is the first step in learning new material. In addition, asking questions like how would I use “X” counseling theory when working with an adolescent or which “X” counseling theory intervention would be most beneficial in this situation requires a deeper level of understanding and application of the concepts. When an individual can answer “questions” about a new concept they can have a higher degree of certainty that they learned the new material.
4. When learning new information use similar concepts to reinforce learning.
This strategy is particularly helpful when an individual is expanding their knowledge in a certain skill set. For example, individuals can compare and contrast the new concept with previously learned material. Or, if individuals are learning a series of similar concepts they can create questions to link all the concepts together. For example, one could ask who originated the theory, describe key principles, and apply concepts to work settings.
5. Seek out a variety of sources to increase learning.
The internet and social media have provided ample avenues to seek and acquire new information. YouTube provides countless "how to" videos on almost every subject. Search engines like Google Scholar provide open access research articles and LinkedIn provides subscriptions to hundreds of asynchronous training courses. It is advantageous to benefit from multiple sources and perspectives. Equally important to seeking out different sources of information is being able to practice and receive feedback on implementing new information. One way to accomplish this is to collaborate with a colleague and teach each other new skills.