Lifelong learning

The first time I saw this expression, lifelong learning, was on ACM Learning Center’s web page. Later on I discovered that the terms were coined by Peter Drucker. In addition to the sweet sound of the alliteration, these two words included several important aspects of life, or, should I say, the way I see my life.

The first aspect, the most direct, is just what the words mean: learning for a lifetime. I am a researcher at heart. I want to understand nature, its complex phenomena, translate them into equations, and be able to reproduce them through modelling and simulation. The idea of learning constantly, every day, is very important to me. Figuring out what’s out there, where we live in, what rules our world, is an inexhaustible source of joy.

I am curious by nature, to much at times I was told, and I never saw it as a problem, nor a vice; a quality in fact. In engineering, as well as in research, if you’re not curious, you get rusty in a blink. Thus, in this lense, lifelong learning means being curious, always. We’re curious because we want to sort out or to understand something. We want to learn, actually. I hadn’t thought of curiosity as a will to learn before I saw this expression.

Another aspect is hope. Learning for a lifetime means discovering and understanding all the way through life. What a nice idea, isn’t it? What a bright future. When I think about lifelong learning, I get a malicious smile, thinking of how much more I will know, understand and discover. I think that it’s learning that actually brings me hope. For a lifetime makes it even stronger.

This brings us inevitably to self improvement: staying up to date, at the leading edge. Or as Stephen R. Covey puts it, sharpening the saw. Learn new stuff, stay competitive. New technologies, new takes on old concepts, or old ideas that are still relevant, like The Art of War from Sun Tsu, which is still taught in many fields other than military after 2500 years. There’s too much to be said to start a digression, you get my point.

Learning is not only technical, a lot comes from people. Friends, family, or even foes. Learning directly from them, or from what they do, why, and how they do it. That’s indeed a fascinating aspect, learning from and with people. Because you can share it too, make the experience common. Like cooking together, and looking at what to adjust when eating the result. New recipes, how to tame your oven, why the muffins didn’t raise as they should, learning about yourself, your tastes, the tastes of your guests, etc. Or that an Italian crostata in Greece is called pasta flora, or vice versa.

Every day, I think about what I have learned during that day. I always find something. Sometimes it seems negligible, but then I find many negligible things that sum up a nice experience, making the day worth it. Believe me, it’s just a habit. Once you’re used to it, you find many things, details so small that they seem unimportant. But over a lifetime, they do become important, they shape your life and your look on it.