“It’s a tragic fact that most of us know only how to be taught; we haven’t learned how to learn.”

Jeff Cobb, self-described “lifelong learning fanatic” and founder of Tagoras and Mission to Learn, introduced me to that quote from Malcolm Knowles, the adult education expert of the late 20th century. In a recent webinar about his book, 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, Jeff talked about why it’s so critical, especially now, to be a lifelong learner .

  • Because of the speed and complexity of our world, we are at risk of information overload. We have to develop techniques to navigate this flow, absorb it, and develop knowledge from it.
  • Learning doesn’t stop at graduation. In “the other 50 years” we need to keep developing. Learning is a process, not an outcome.
  • We live in a learning economy, or as Jeff calls it, “a figure-it-out-on-a-daily-basis economy.” To thrive, we must keep acquiring new knowledge and skills.

According to Jeff, lifelong learning is no longer optional, it’s required. When he talks about learning, he means self-directed learning as well as formal learning (courses and classes). He defines learning as “a lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes.”

In 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, which you can also download as an eBook for a very inexpensive price, Jeff advises starting with one or two of the Ways. Focus first on them and make them part of your life before trying any others. At his website, he provides resources to help you explore each one. Here are a few to consider.

Adopt the right mindset.

Learning starts with a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset. Be open to the idea of learning, and knowing you need to learn. Most importantly, believe that you can learn, grow, and change.

Jeff says, “To learn and to grow, we must consciously tune into the opportunities that are around us, as well as the barriers that may be unnecessarily holding us back.” Have a curious mindset. Be willing to explore new ideas or subject areas. Be open to serendipitous links and connections.

Set aside time to pursue learning opportunities whether it’s saving links to read later, taking an online class, listening to a podcast, or watching a webinar. Time is the biggest barrier, but if you want to grow, you must invest in yourself. Start with stealing 20 minutes at the beginning or end of your day. What can you listen to or read while commuting, exercising, or doing chores or mindless tasks?

Jeff says the right mindset also includes setting aside time for reflection. That’s how you make connections, consolidate learning, learn from mistakes and successes, and move forward. In his book he provides suggestions on making reflection a daily habit.

Cultivate your network.

Consciously cultivate your online and in-person network. A network is never static; you will always add and prune people. Pay more attention to the quality of people, not the quantity.

He suggests three criteria for evaluating your network:

  • Quality and usefulness of content.
  • Integrity of the person, for example, their trustworthiness, knowledge and experience, and quality of their network. Jeff suggests finding good content curators, those who act as filters and sources, and help others make sense of content.
  • Cognitive diversity – diversity of perspectives, opinions, and thoughts.

Use technology better.

Technology provides so many new opportunities to learn, but you need to have a plan and tactics for using it, or you’ll be overwhelmed by the abundant flow of information. In his book, Jeff discusses five ways technology enhances learning:

  • Gauging what you know through self-assessment.
  • Providing access to learning opportunities.
  • Putting you in contact with a diverse range of people and ideas.
  • Being an active, not just a passive, learner.
  • Giving some order and organization to the incessant flow of information.

He also provides a dozen favorite technology tools for learning.

Are your members lifelong learners?

Jeff says there isn’t enough conversation in our industry about “the other 50 years” of learning. Do you talk to your members about the need to be self-directed learners? Don’t assume your members have these good habits. Help them develop the mindset and skills for lifelong learning.

Every leader wants to leave behind a legacy: imagine being the one who inspired members to transform their lives through learning. Whisper that in the ear of your incoming president.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and a longtime lifelong learner.