A couple of months ago I was invited to offer a presentation on “Leading Your Team as a Life Long Learner” at a workforce development conference. The conference is tomorrow, and today I am finally getting down to the business of being sure I have a lucid plan for my presentation. And yesterday was the first day of Winter Term at my university. And I feel as though I’ve just barely re-entered “normal” life, whatever “normal” is, after several weeks of feeling profoundly jangly as I adjust to an altered reality in my personal life. Of course, when I accepted the opportunity to offer a community presentation on lifelong learning I didn’t have foreknowledge of the tumult on my near-future horizon, and while I did know that the presentation would fall on day-three of the new term I was optimistic that over the winter holiday break I’d find plenty of time to work on my presentation (and on other projects as well).
Like my Gramma Jewell always liked to say, though I am pretty certain she poached it from John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Yep, that’s exactly what happened to me. Life.
So though I am nervous and I feel as though I’ve been negligent because I wasn’t ready to rock this presentation two weeks ago (or even two days ago!), I am also weirdly glad to be in the middle of a complex process that simultaneously involves reflection, healing, discernment, and, well, deep learning. What better energetic inspiration for a presentation on lifelong learning than one’s own lifelong learning experiences in real-time? (Oh, I forgot to mention in the opening paragraph that I’m also trying to participate in a MOOC MOOC. A “MOOC” is a “massive open online course” and the MOOC that I’m participating in sponsored and facilitated by the keen folks at www.hybridpedagogy.com provides a deep immersion in teaching and learning in a MOOC environment. If this doesn’t demonstrate that I am committed to my own ongoing learning – or that I’m now completely unhinged – I don’t know what does!)
As I’m writing this essay I’m noticing that in fact the examples I’m giving of the kinds of learning I’m engaged in right now – by choice and against my will! – – actually signal something potentially interesting about how we might think about lifelong learning: lifelong learning has more to do with a way of thinking about one’s self as a human being as one travels through the life course (and about other human beings as they travel through the life course) than it does to the particular form or content of any learning experience. In other words, lifelong learning is a sensibility, a commitment and an enactment, not reducible to engaging in a particular formal or informal learning opportunity, nor mostly about being a good and responsible citizen, nor about remaining a “productive” member of society as long as possible, nor about what to do with one’s time once one is no longer engaged in “formal learning” (If, indeed, one has been fortunate enough to be able to afford to do so.).
(Perhaps this is the moment in the essay where you, my reader, get antsy, hoping I’m about to tell you what lifelong learning really is, if it isn’t reducible to these things.)
Well, as I said, I’m still working on my presentation (and I’m counting on falling back a bit on the thinking and work with others I’ve done over the past couple of decades around all of this!) and I wouldn’t want to give too much away ahead of the performance, but I will say this (and you’ll please let me know what you think as well):
When I contemplate what the pre-requisites for and promise of a commitment to lifelong learning might be I have this sense of hope about my own and others’ capacities for ongoing, lifelong deep development, for living a precious human life of meaning and purpose. I have the realization that to cultivate this hope requires me to practice a kind of brave openness to the complexity of reality and human experience, even in the face of things I don’t understand or things I don’t want to have to change about myself or my life or things that can’t be changed about others or situations. And also that curiosity is part of all of this – curiosity about other creatures (human and not human), about the nature of “self,” about the nature of reality. And there’s something ethical and…or…even spiritual having to do with interconnectedness, how we are each of us a part of larger groups: families, eco-systems, communities, workplaces, societies, the planet, and as such we have roles and responsibilities to reflect upon and enact with intentionality and care.
There’s more….I can feel other notions, warm and shimmering somewhere in the middle of my back, working their way up my spine.
Thanks for listening. I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow.