The Three Adventures of Learning


"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

-Carl Sagan

It's September and the kids are (thankfully) back in school. Was it really so long ago that we too were heading back to the classroom to advance our knowledge and skills?

Well, for some of us, maybe...

The month of September revives memories of school days — the excitement of meeting old friends to catch up on summer adventures, meeting new classmates, and of entering new levels of study and personal achievement.

As our children make the trek back to school, we should also reflect on our own learning.

What would you like to learn this year? Perhaps it is a language, a cooking course, or some form of professional development?

And what could you teach? Everyone has a special gift, talent, knowledge or experience of great value that could be transmitted to another person.

When we are receptive to learning something new and teaching what we know, we enrich the collective pool of knowledge within our families, communities, organizations and nations.

Henry Ford reminds us, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young."

Learning is a deep mystery to be explored over the course of a lifetime and not just when we're young. No matter what age group we fall into, we have an adventure of learning ahead of us:

  • What are the lessons of youth?
  • What are the lessons of mid-life?
  • What are the lessons of eldership?


The First Adventure: Learning How To Learn

The return to the classroom each year after Labour Day is an indelible imprinting of the initiatory journey of learning.

Cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien suggests the word initiationmeans "the ability to learn something and then successfully demonstrate to someone else that you have learned it."

Education is an initiatory rite of passage. It is one of the few left in our culture.

In the first phase of education we learn how to learn.

This phase is largely instruction-driven. We study with those who have a proven mastery in both the art of teaching and the content of the learning curriculum.

This phase generally instills the knowledge, skills and values that support the individual to become a contributing member of the family, community and society.

While preparation for employment is certainly important, learning about engagement in life, the development of values and principles, and making a contribution through endeavor are critical as well.

This initiation readies us for taking our place in the world as an adult. We have passed the rigors of the learning journey of youth, preparing us to assume the identity, roles and responsibility of adulthood.


The Second Adventure: Self-Directed Learning

Learning should not end with a graduation ceremony from school. Rather, we should look at graduation as the end of one educational phase and the beginning of the next.

The second adventure of learning is self-directed learning. Here we choose what we want to learn. This learning is not teacher or school directed. Rather, it springs from the learner's own sense of curiosity, development needs and desire to accomplish something meaningful.

Self-directed learning can be focused on problem solving, personal development, career aspirations or simply the love of learning for its own sake.

When learning is self-directed, studies indicate that it is far more effective and provides a greater depth of understanding.

Every self-directed learner has the right to claim they areautodidactic. It's an old-fashioned term for learning on your own but when sprinkled into conversation with kids or friends lends a certain "je ne sais quoi" to the proceedings.

Self-directed learning is a mid-life initiation. It includes finding mentors and teachers who can help us develop in the areas we wish to pursue. But the main point here is that we are driving the learning agenda.

What are your learning goals this year? What has captured your imagination or caught your interest? Perhaps it's history and learning more about the past of the place you live in? Or maybe it's travel and languages? At work, what knowledge would help you master what you are doing?


The Third Adventure: Teaching Others


    "We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn."

    -Peter Drucker

    The third adventure of learning is teaching and mentoring others.

    Teaching and mentoring others is also an initiatory crucible. It is an initiation into maturity and wisdom, also known as the journey of eldership.

    This is the adventure of sustainable learning — giving back to others as an expression of support and gratitude for what one has learned in life.

    It is also a commitment to impart what wisdom, guidance, knowledge, skills one has accrued through the adventures of learning to one more and to develop the gifts of others. This way, it becomes tribal wisdom and does not become lost in the past. We cannot help but learn when we are helping others to learn.

    To teach others requires mastery in 5 domains:

    Demonstrated competence in technical aspects of a personal or professional pursuit and the ability to demonstrate those skills to others for the purpose of learning.

    Demonstrated competence in the wise conduct of relationships.

    Character that supports the right use of power so that the mentor–student relationship remains equitable.

    Honest and fair assessment of what's working well and what corrections or improvements are required by the student to achieve excellence.

    The ability to provide feedback that does not provoke defensiveness and cannot be ignored.

    These five practices in themselves form a rigorous learning curriculum.

    Posted on September 1, 2011 .