Lifelong Learner

“I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.”
 ~ Albert Einstein

I see it in social media profile taglines, conference bios, CVs and resumes. Several years ago during my graduate degree in instructional technology I was introduced to the phrase “lifelong learner.” It likely surfaced alongside an exploration of Malcolm Knowles and andragogy. The Department of Education and Science (2000) describes lifelong learning as the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge. Back then, I remember thinking it was a self-characterization I could pretty much get behind. With more than one graduate program behind me and being deep in another, I had already spent many years seeking answers to questions in relatively traditional higher education settings. Years later, I still consider myself a lifelong learner; probably always will. But really, who in higher education would not say they are a lifelong learner? Aren’t we all perpetual students? At a point in their careers, do some faculty believe they have read (or written) the last book in their field? Do some lose the motivation to keep exploring or feel like, as my partner’s mother would say, “My hard drive is full,” and choose (consciously or not) to gloss over the “data” that is inconsistent with their current understanding of the world.

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
~ Albert Einstein

Students expect instructors to be subject matter experts. Teachers are supposed to have the knowledge and make that knowledge accessible to students. Though that model still persists, we are now seeing more and more exciting examples of teachers opening up their courses, and inviting students to be more active participants in the “content,” the assessments, the very nature of the teaching and learning process — right alongside the teacher. As just about anyone with an advanced degree can attest, the more I know about something, the more I know I don’t know. As I face new or updated information, I am faced with a decision. I either embrace the opportunity to continue the pursuit of knowledge by incorporating that information with the story in my head, or I shut down and focus elsewhere. This decision is essentially a “fight or flight” response; expand and embrace the challenge or avoid and self-preserve.

If you are still reading this, you probably align with the “fight” decision. So fight it is. I’m not entirely comfortable with “fight” when it comes to my continued unfolding of what I think I know. Perhaps “wrestle” is more appropriate. Though the wrestle often requires considerable effort to reconcile, I won’t be put upon by new information delivered via new textbook editions, journal articles, blog posts, and a variety of social and news media outlets. Rather than being seen as a burden, I want to embrace the challenge to extend my understanding of the world. I want to take the pages that are shared with me and adopt, adapt, and incrementally adjust my story. This may be an ever-evolving story, but it is my story (with a big CC-BY stamped on the cover). As far as I can tell, I won’t see the words “The End” anytime soon. How’s your story?

The unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity.”
Freire – Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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