Published on 2012/03/21
Intentional Lifelong Learner
Students should endeavor to make learning a lifelong process, as it will lead to success in school and later in work. Photo by Becca Spence.

I am someone who loves to learn about a variety of topics, with a strong sense of curiosity and desire to increase my understanding and knowledge.  This often takes the form of reading books, blogs, journals, and accessing other solid informational sources to gather comprehension and understanding.  Regardless of the form of the information, I seek it out intentionally, with an ever growing range of concepts receiving the focus of my attention.

We all learn constantly, much of the time as experiential responses without intentional expectations of ourselves.  When someone is a lifelong learner, they can be characterized as seeking a wide variety of information intentionally and incorporating it into their ideas and thoughts.  This may take the form of a student seeking how to learn.  Or, it may be someone who asks questions and challenges the status quo.  Another may test different plans, learning to think through concepts, grow a thought from hypothesis to conclusion, and gain experience in identifying and working through difficulties.  Each of these in their various ways is seeking to learn intentionally and not by casual sensory input.

As a former history teacher, one of the main objectives I had in my classroom was to create an environment where students sought to learn intentionally and make it a lifelong practice.  Grades were not my main focus, but rather to challenge students to look deeper and create understanding that went far beyond echoing back rote information.   As students learned about various historical events, I wanted them to leave curious and to not blindly accept interpretation of historical facts without thinking them through.  I wanted them to wonder what made someone a great leader others were willing to follow, understand why a civilization would rise or fall, and realize the impact of great technological shifts and the resulting societal turmoil.  I set a goal before myself, to nurture a desire in students to understand, grow, and seek out learning intentionally.

In moving from the world of school to that of business, I continue to believe that a company that has a corporate culture built to encourage intentional learners will point back to an asset base of human capital being built and recognized as a great asset.  Those businesses which have incorporated lifelong learning into their strategic business plan are often the most innovative, offering products which can capture market share, and at times even revolutionize and define new market sectors.

To build this into a company culture is more than maintaining a standard continuing education or regulatory education program.  Instead, businesses display wise leadership when investing back into individuals at multiple organizational levels to establish and align the goals of the person with that of the business and incorporate learning activities throughout the year.  I believe that when a learning culture is supported as an expectation, engagement of the individual can increase, especially when someone is curious and wants to understand additional information.  At the same time, expertise increases and further abilities are developed.  In a classic cause and effect pattern, this can in turn lead to more advanced skill sets, higher retention levels, and more satisfied customers.

To support the role of a learner in the job world, an individual should be encouraged to look for new information.  This can take the form of in-house mentoring, conducting on the job training, and then looking to share that knowledge with others.  Budgeting for the time this takes is essential, or it most likely will not occur on a wide scale due to time and cost demands.  Utilizing these learners can benefit the company by becoming in-house experts.  Knowledge sharing programs can then be used as a way to capture and build on the investment made into those involved.  Then, an amalgamation of the new ideas as well as the benefit of experience is provided.  It is these individuals which will carry a business into the future, by seeking out learning, sharing information, and avoiding complacency – being intentional lifelong learners.

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Readers Comments

Clark Ellis 2012/03/23 at 11:22 am

Is there an easy way to convince executives that this would be the best way to fill in-house skills gaps?

Because the problem almost always seems to come from a lack of available resources to implement some of the just-in-time measures you’re suggesting

Jessica 2012/03/28 at 11:38 am

I think you are correct in that financial resource allocation is a necessity, as well as top-level support. A business case to demonstrate the return on the investment of the people can be useful. One idea would be to incorporate development into a succession plan. Build into a smaller group that is identified as potential key employees. Metrics already in place for succession might be a bit easier to quantify, showing the cost of development versus the loss of productive time when recruiting someone new, along with the associated expenses of a new hire. Then, once your development process is established, you can use that for your business case and expansion.

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