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Helping Humans Flourish

Phil Hayes
December 5, 2023

What is it?

Lifelong Learning is quite a trending topic, but let’s not worry about definitions too much. Nothing is more mind-numbing than seeking to strictly define something that is by nature amorphous and dynamic. Let’s just say that Lifelong Learning is all the stuff that happens outside of formal education. That’s a lot of stuff – key experiences, knowledge acquisition, skills development, study, working and living with other people, learning to work things and manage the practicalities of life, and so on.

What drives it?

Lifelong Learning follows the dynamics of coaching very closely. Firstly, there is the constant driver of change. Change is both what happens to us from the outside – often obvious and perceived by the senses - and what goes on inside us, which is often less obvious and may even go unrecognised. Lifelong Learning offers us the means to navigate and explore these changes, enabling us to survive and thrive in the external world, whilst simultaneously learning about, managing, and developing our inner selves.

How to keep learning - my own experience.

Most of us know something of learning theory so I will keep this personal. I’m in my 70th year, so the ‘Lifelong’ part of the term becomes ever more real – I have had a long learning journey.  

In earlier life, learning for me had a primarily functional and utilitarian purpose. Now, learning feels more connected to the finding of meaning and understanding, of the world and of myself. It is also a path to joy. As bodily faculties inevitably decline, the life of the mind becomes more important, though I believe it is important to maintain physical and sense-based learning habits too, such as the playing of music.

Frankly, it’s been a bit hit and miss – I shudder with regret at the many learning opportunities I have squandered. On the other hand, some fragments have stuck, and in recent years I have come to reflect on the personal strategies for learning that have yielded some success. Don’t take this as an attempt at a definitive list though – this is just what has worked for me.

Here are four ideas:

  • Do nothing at all – This may sound like an unthinkable luxury, and indeed it has not happened that often to me, but when it has, I have found that a period of sitting around aimlessly almost invariably produces an energy to create, to learn or to investigate something new. This might mean going out to explore a new place, reading a different author, trying to write a poem or a song or having a nose in an encyclopaedia or textbook.
  • Tunnelling and linking – This means dipping into a topic and following where it takes me with no specific goal. Often, I find myself looking at one of the more obscure aspects of a subject and finding chains of connection with other unexpected topics. This is fun!
  • Repetition and drill – In contrast to the random approaches above are the application of structure and discipline. For example, I have done language learning for the first time since school, every single day for the past 1220 days, without fail. Gradually it is paying off, as the languages begin to make sense of themselves as entire entities rather than as disconnected words and phrases. By the same token, if I really want to ‘get’ a particular book I will re-read it, sometimes up to 10 or 12 times. Maybe I’m just a bit slow.
  • Self-reflection and analysis – This is where coaching and even therapy are so helpful – the opportunity to learn about oneself and develop oneself in the company of an empathic facilitator. Creative activity can also throw up learning about the self.

The MF Approach to Lifelong Learning

At MF, we take it as axiomatic that learning is for the whole person and for the whole of life. We aim to create a warm, generous, and friendly learning space - built on sharing and respect for the knowledge and life experience of our team, as well as our partners and clients. Our learning is aimed at the goal of human flourishing. You may already be a learner with us. If you are just getting to know us, feel free to call us to discuss the learning needs you or your organisation may have!

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