Becoming a Lifelong Learner
Lifelong learning is the key to surviving the pressures of the contemporary educational, work, and overall social environment. Knowledge is fast evolving in a rapidly changing social context. In the workplace, reorganization, restructuring and transformation are common terms capturing the continuous changes that exact incessant skills improvement from personnel. Emerging social issues demand greater creativity and innovativeness from individuals, public and private organizations, and communities. It is only by fostering lifelong learning that each individual, contributing to collective social capital, can develop the skills necessary to achieve academic objectives, adapt to a changing work environment, and cope up with social challenges. The development of the skills for lifelong learning should commence at the academe, for lifetime application in work and community settings. The neglect or unawareness of this need has made lifelong learning “an elaborate game of catch-up” (N. Evans, 2003, p.1). To become a lifelong learner, there is need to understand its concept, identify the skills needed apply the concept, and develop a plan in becoming a lifelong learner.
Concept of Lifelong Learning
The conceptualization of lifelong learning is multi-dimensional and yielding to different perspectives, in general and in specific areas of learning and practice, such as social work. The general perspectives explain lifelong learning as a process, instrument or tool, and outcome. The perspectives emerging in the context of social work explain this concept through social workers as themselves lifelong learners and facilitators of lifelong learning to the people they work with in the community.
As a process, lifelong learning is the conscious, focused and planned learning occurring all through the lifetime of individuals. Lifelong learning is also learning that continues from the academe to employment and contributes knowledge to society over one’s lifetime. (Fischer, 2000; N. Evans, 2003; K. Evans, 2006) This involves two aspects, basic skills building and skills practice. The most important stage of developing the basic skills for lifelong learning is in the academe. Academic education refers to actual knowledge as well as appreciation and development of knowledge acquisition skills (Knapper & Cropley, 2000). A strong academic learning background should extend to practice after leaving the academe. While continuous academic learning also forms part of practice, the application of actual knowledge and continuous knowledge acquisition in different contexts such as work and other social situations reflects the practical process of lifelong learning.
As an instrument or tool, lifelong learning is a means of achieving individual and collective goals. This integrates the individual concepts of motivation and self-actualization and the broader concept of human development. Lifelong learning provides access to knowledge and skills for continuous knowledge building, with learning as the goal in itself or as a necessary means of achieving specific objectives. (K. Evans, 2006) Lifelong learning could be a motivation for achieving personal goals such as an excellent academic achievement and work advancement or promotion. Lifelong learning could also be an instrument for the betterment of disadvantaged groups such as inmates, deprived communities, or societies in dire need of culture change.
As an outcome, lifelong learning refers to the various end of “social and cultural education” (Grace, 2004, p. 385), with education encompassing both academic and life experiential learning. The outcome of lifelong learning covers academic achievement as well as accomplishment in different social contexts. Lifelong learning is having “responsive and responsible citizen learners and workers, who are able to think, speak and act in life, learning and work situations” (Grace, 2004, p. 385). Lifelong learning also means democratic education and sufficient human capital (Ohidy, 2008) or high levels of “effectiveness, efficiency, innovation and productivity” (Reeve, Cartwright, & Edwards, 2002, p. 1) based on the human capital perspective. Overall, lifelong learning expresses living (Beynon & Harfield, 2007).
In the field of social work, lifelong learning means skills building by social work students and practitioners throughout their lifetime. Effective social work practice requires recurrent learning, which is the system of providing opportunities for work-related and non-work related learning in the course of practice. One reason is the rapid change in the social environment, the context or venue for social work practice. Assisting in the solution of emerging social issues require continuous knowledge and skills refurbishment. Another reason is the transformation of social work as an occupation flexible to changing needs and conditions. (Toyoharu, 2005)
Lifelong learning in social work also means social workers as facilitators of continuous learning. Social work practitioners are in the position to influence lifelong learning. They open opportunities for learning by interacting and building relationships with the people they work with. Social work revolves around the concepts of social development, empowerment, quality of life, and welfare. Learning is a tool and outcome of social work so that the delivery of aid or service also includes a learning aspect through the sharing of knowledge and building of skills targeting long-term developmental outcomes. The manner that social work practitioners optimize these learning opportunities by applying inclusive and responsive learning strategies determines the emancipation of the recipients as lifelong learners. (Hafford-Letchfield, 2009)
Skills in Becoming a Lifelong Learner
A social worker needs to develop skills for lifelong learning to become effective practitioners. There are basic skills that a social worker needs to develop. These skills have implications on management, community work, and planning as areas of practice.
One fundamental skill is academic literacy, which refers to advanced literacy that supports in-depth learning of complex knowledge. This means the ability to do two things. One is guided thinking or cognitive stimulation from theories or concepts learned in the academic setting. Another is production of learning output from cognitive processing. (Sutherland & Crowther, 2006) Building academic literacy supports lifelong learning by ensuring that individuals have the cognitive tools needed in a lifetime of using and creating knowledge (Fischer, 2000). In application to social work, academic literacy means the ability to transform theoretical knowledge into practice to create and innovate on policies in management and programming and activities in actual community work.
Another skill is good planning or the ability to develop a guide for action based on pre-determined goals and to implement the course of action in a way that meets expected outcomes. This implies the ability to consider existing conditions, set future goals, and ensure goal-guided implementation. Continuous learning could comprise a plan in itself by targeting lifelong learning as a goal, setting up a course of action, and fulfilling these actions. Good planning could also assist in the achievement of lifelong learning by ensuring the discipline and motivation to sustain knowledge acquisition and sharing. (Knapper & Cropley, 2000) Good planning supports efficient management, outcome-oriented community practice, and effective programming.
Still another skill is critical practice or the application of expert knowledge and skills appropriate to different kinds of problems (Grace, 2004). This implies mastery of the problem-solving approach and creativity that facilitate lifelong learning from experiencing different problem situations. In social work, this ensures responsive management decisions, grounded community work, and viable programming.
Another skill is self-regulation or the ability to take control or manage continuous learning (Sutherland & Crowther, 2006). This is similar to the concept of self-directed learning since this forms part of the broader idea of lifelong learning. This ensures continuous learning by allowing individuals to develop lifetime learning goals and provides them with the capability to achieve these goals. In social work, self-regulation means perceptive management, experience-based community work, and programming based on best practices.
Last skill is excellent collaboration. This means the ability to draw insights from other people based on the recognition of the limitations of the human mind working alone. This also implies the view of the socialization and social linkages as venues for learning and social life as full of knowledge. Another implication is individual exposure to various situations resulting in rich insights. (Knapper & Cropley, 2000) In social work, collaborative learning facilitates groupthink and ensures that the participating individuals learn from their interaction with other people.
Becoming a lifelong learner means the conscious decision to continue learning, focus on learning outcomes, and planning of learning activities. Goals for a lifetime of learning include specialized knowledge from continues academic studies, career development, and personal development. The resources needed to achieve these goals included sufficient financial investment in academic education, allocation of time for academic and experiential learning, and conscious development of the values (appreciation for knowledge and commitment to learning) and skills necessary to ensure the continuous learning process. Specific activities include the pursuit of post-graduate degree or degrees in support of specialized or in-depth academic literacy. Another is involvement in research whether a part of the academe or as a practitioner Still another is thorough management, community and programming exposure to ensure integrative and critical practice. Last is involvement in community activities outside of the academe and work and the conscious building of a wide social network in different social settings.
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