Rethinking Learning for Changing Education

Lives matter, actions matter, even words matter. What these signal are the values of humanity for treating everyone as equal; they highlight the power of coming together and the importance of communication by choosing the words we use.

So when we say we’re “learning” something, why does that matter, and what does learning really mean? 

Learning is best described as a process, which is different from a product or a collection of information. It’s this process that means we are always changing, modifying, and refining what we know, do, value, and prefer.

What’s interesting is that many of us suggest that learning occurs in designated areas such as schools, workplaces, or traditional spaces built for learning, namely universities, museums, and libraries.

But something as simple as learning (an always changing process) being housed in places that doesn’t change, makes me also wonder what we really mean, even more, what really matters, about our “education…”


State of Lifelong Learning: 5 New Opportunities

In a season of State of Union addresses, it seems quite fitting to offer a brief statement about the status of lifelong learning for upcoming years.

As Jeff Cobb points out in Leading the Learning Revolution, lifelong learning represents an emergent opportunity in how we deliver and consume learning. But more than that, lifelong learning has entered a phase that is no longer optional or discretionary.

In the upcoming years, lifelong learning will be mandatory, in other words, essentially required in order to sustain a better quality of life.

The long-awaited time for lifelong learning has finally come. After forty years, when Congress introduced the “Lifelong Learning Act” as an amendment to reauthorizing the well-known Higher Education Act, it unfortunately did not pass. Still the ultimate purpose of it captures the growing need to introduce federal policy that improves learning opportunities for individual citizens in local communities.

Given how learning and education have changed over four decades, such a social policy needs to be reassessed to meet the needs of multiple generations. From the mature generation, baby-boomers, GenXers, to the millennials, lifelong learning presents an opportunity for everyone, regardless of age, education level, job or social status.

With this in mind, I present five emerging opportunities for lifelong learning in the upcoming years:

1. Learning Cities: The topic of learning cities and regions represents how lifelong learning can be implemented in metropolitan areas with diverse learning needs.

2. Adjunct, Contingent, and Community College Educators: Learners and Educators are joined together in the new lifelong learning landscape such that educators who were considered on the fringes of education will now dominate a central role in the collective mainstream of higher education.

3. Lifelong Learning Policy: The historic Lifelong Learning Act only points to the need for cities and communities to begin creating social education policy that considers lifelong learning-for-all, “from cradle to the grave,” beyond traditional schooling.

4. Learning Assessment and Analytics: Data and the analysis of data will only increase in the upcoming years where lifelong learning will require formal assessment tools and analytical measures to inform decision-making to implement policies and programs.

5. Quality of Life: Issues such as obesity, diabetes, and other health concerns cannot be left to medical doctors to solve, but actually health and community issues represent an overall quality of life concern for an entire population. Public health will require lifelong learning to play a part in informing and practicing healthful actions. Lifelong learning for our quality of life includes not only health concerns, but also the multi-literacy of common problems that threaten the vitality and well-being of every community.

So the State of Lifelong Learning is extensive and in the upcoming years it will be “trans-formative” in changing mindsets, commitments, and actions for the sake of learning without end.

Lifelong learning as a family affair

Talking to people about “lifelong learning,” without ever providing real-life examples, has been something I’m often guilty of. Sure, lifelong learning describes how individuals continue developing personally and socially, but what actions would specifically count as lifelong learning?

Even better, how would others recognize you are involved in lifelong learning and participate with you?

A promising response and real example on behalf of lifelong learning come from Northeastern University’s president, Joseph E. Aoun, when he announced that through their “Lifetime Learning Membership,” parents and siblings can also go to college at a 25% discount (John O’Neill; news@Northeastern).

What is so inspiring for other colleges to consider is that President Aoun announced this at their university’s parent-and-family weekend, stated that “learning is a lifelong endeavor,” and matched his words-with-deeds by introducing this innovative, “first-of-its-kind,” lifelong learning program.

Lifelong learning-in-action may naturally exist outside the campuses of colleges and universities, yet this ground-breaking effort may provide another real way to do lifelong learning, not simply as an individual matter, but as a family affair.

Late Bloomers: A great thing for adult learners

No longer should being a “late bloomer” feel like a back-handed comment, or receiving an unflattering pat-on-the-back. But alas, now you’re a productive person after supposedly wasting years, even decades, in unproductive idleness. Some in society may see late bloomers as those who finally made good on their wasted potential:

They got it wrong; for the times are a-changin’.

For example, CBS News Sunday Morning recently aired a segment on late bloomers (beautifully done by Susan Spencer) that took the gardening and flowering analogy (associated with the term) and re-planted late bloomers as a great thing, a natural occurrence, even an American event worthy for all ages to respect and appreciate.

Stories of people becoming a huge success later in life (40, 50, 60 and older) are countless to name, some are widely celebrated.  Yet there is something about what the author Katz wisely-witted, “old age comes at a bad time,” which may reveal the actual fear about blooming late: losing life and dying without ever leaving something significant.

Surprisingly, what makes being a late-bloomer great is not measured by time, age, or level of success.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The flower analogy can mislead us in thinking that late is bad, when early-blooming could be as equally worse. A more accurate assessment sees the celebration, the simply joy in itself, in a lifetime of learning that a flower blooms!

In this way, we understand the analogy for a new time and a new season. As lifelong learners, we are all flowers, budding, blooming, continually blossoming as our learning grows whenever and however:

So happy season.

How realistic is #leanintogether?

Facebook COO, SHow Men Can Succeed in the boardroom and the Bedroom on the New York Times and #leanintogether is generating buzz online these days. This movement has began educating society by offering “tips” on how men can work toward gender equality at home as fathers and at work as employees and managers. As a SAHM and a feminist academic, I remain skeptical about how this can be translated into action in workplaces and homes across America and around the world. While I applaud the movement in involving and challenging men to step up, I wonder how sustainable this initiative is? Without organizations embracing the idea, without managers seeing the improved morale of their workers, without breaking the perceptions about workers with children, without more men speaking out about needing more time with their newborns, without women returning back to work six weeks postpartum, #leanintogether will remain just a viral hashtag.