Lifelong Learning

22 Apr 2001

by Jim Muncy

I recently had a really interesting essay come across my desk. It was written by John P. Kotter of the Harvard Business School and appeared in the Atlanta Constitution. The basic theme was that the world has changed and when it comes to career development, the old rules don't apply anymore. The article ended with the following statement: “It's tempting to think at graduation time that your education is over. Nothing could be further from the truth. One hundred years ago people thought of work as a job. Fifty years ago, work became a career. In the future, work for the most successful among us will be an exercise in lifelong learning.”

Buzzwords come and go in academia and in business. In business academia, this is even truer since we latch on to the buzzwords from both academia and business as well as creating a few of our own. One of the most popular buzzwords of the day is "lifelong learning" (OK, it’s two words). But at the core of the buzzword is indeed an important concept. If you have a job that requires learning, knowledge, skills, etc., you must be committed to lifelong learning or else you will become obsolete very soon. If you can't stand to learn, the workplace of the future may not be very fun for you.

It has been my experience that nothing kills people's desire to learn more than boring learning experiences. Yes indeed, there are times when all of us need to learn something that is much less than exciting. On the other hand, I would say that most of what people need to learn to stay ahead is fun and exciting. However, their spark for learning has long passed, due to too many boring classes, trite textbooks and mindless educational exercises.

We as home educators have the opportunity to make a difference, at least in the lives of our children. I believe that there are things that we must teach our children that, at the time, are not very much fun for them. However, before we subject our children to such learning, I think we must critically ask ourselves some key questions: Do they really need to learn this? Do they really need to learn it now? (What bores a kid when we throw it at them may be the same thing that really excites the child when he or she discovers it in his or her own time.) Is there a more exciting way to teach what this child needs to know? After answering these questions, we may find that a lot of what we are teaching our child is needlessly developing a distaste for learning that he or she must overcome to develop a love for lifelong learning.

I think we, as home educators, are also challenged to model lifelong learning to our children. If we can't get excited about learning, how can we expect them to do so? But if we do get excited, I think our children will easily pick up our excitement for learning.

Finally, I think we need to break away from the traditional paradigm of what is learning. Learning takes many forms. If we confine it to the traditional areas, we may be inhibiting our children from developing a love for learning when their learning is in an area we typically don't associate with learning. For example, learning all of the facts about major league baseball or learning how to assort and dress dolls may not seem like important learning, but if it is a step in the developing the love for learning, it can be some of the most important learning a child can do. A child must learn that learning can be fun, and I am convinced that the child must experience this from learning about something of interest to the child.

James Muncy is Professor of Marketing at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. He is also Executive Director of the Association for Consumer Research, the world's largest association devoted to scholarly consumer research. His wife, Lisa, and he are Presidents of the Valdosta Area Homeschooling Association. They homeschool their four children, ages thirteen, eleven, nine, and seven. All six members of the Muncy family recently received their Black Belts in Songham Tae Kwon Do.

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