“In the new information society, where the only constant is change, we can no longer expect to get an education and be done with it. There is no one education, no one skill that lasts a lifetime now. Like it or not, the information society has turned us all into lifelong learners.”
This quote is from John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends (1988), written a little over twenty years ago. Doubtless, nobody is more aware of this fact than the students of Athabasca University, who (according to statistics provided to me by one of my tutors) are approximately sixty-five percent female and mostly in their thirties. What this means, for many of us, is that we are expanding our minds and our horizons in the full swing of life. We are reading about the parts of the human cell whilst holding children on our laps. We are cramming for a linear algebra exam in between board meetings. We are making notations for an essay on the medieval witch hunts after our children have finally fallen asleep in bed. The cue cards we wrote up for Educational Psychology 389 have peanut butter residue on them. In short, we are lifelong learners.
Why do we do it? At a point in life when so many people feel that it is too late to “go back to school,” why do we challenge ourselves in this way? Obviously, there are many reasons. Like students of any age, many of us want to expand our career options. Perhaps we want to change careers altogether. We see higher education as a means to an end, as a way to achieve a better future for ourselves and our families.
For myself, I want to one day move on from my business career and become a counselling psychologist. I enjoy working and being busy too much to even contemplate the terrible prospect of retiring and sitting on the sidelines of life. I want to be working and learning until the day I die, rather than being shuffled off into some enforced retirement.
But it’s not just about career options and other such practical things. It’s also about the sheer joy of learning itself. Starting each new course, for me, is a bit like setting out on a journey to a place I’ve never been before. There is an element of mystery, a feeling that I want to see what is just over that next hill or around that next corner. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. It’s a humbling experience. But with each new difficulty I face, each new challenge I meet and conquer, I learn as much about myself as the subject I’m studying.
Learning is indeed a lifelong journey, and I’m enjoying every mile of the ride.
Naisbitt, J. (1988). Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. Warner Books.