Continual learning allows young and old to thrive

Traditionally, people have embarked on learning as a tool for earning. For learners the practice of learning has become definitive and goal orientated: entry into the job market. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Traditionally, people have embarked on learning as a tool for earning. For learners the practice of learning has become definitive and goal orientated: entry into the job market. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

COMMENT

A friend turned 80 last week. She hosted an exceptional birthday party at her home, inviting family and friends.

It was gratifying to see most of her fellow octogenarian friends almost as hail and hearty as she was. The common thread among them was active minds, a modicum of good health and a lively interest in their surroundings.

My friend has a membership to a tree society, a succulent society, an archaeology society, a garden club and a book club.
Her regular attendance of yoga classes and pottery classes are no doubt contributing factors to her good health.

Her attitude is always grounded in the present with the possibilities of the future in her next breath.

She embodies life-long — or continual — learning.

Traditionally, people have embarked on learning as a tool for earning. For learners the practice of learning has become definitive and goal orientated: entry into the job market.

But learning is no longer restricted to the academic or technical spheres that allow us to survive in a complex, commercially driven world. Learning is becoming the continuum that overrides the usual milestones in life. Learning is healthy.

Continual learning is fast becoming the tool concomitant with good   nutrition and exercise.

The term currently being used for continual learning is “future-proofing your brain”.

We need to future-proof our brains in order to achieve healthy, functional ageing. We are living longer and therefore need to live smarter.

The antidote to non-functional or diminished brain function, unless caused by illness or accident, is a sense of mental purpose and function.

For the past 10 years I have been a learner support specialist in private practice. The nub of what I do is to discern what learning intervention is required by the learner.

Often I become a central reference point for grade 11 and 12 learners who seek my assistance as a matter of urgency.

It no longer surprises me that the learners are exposed to content-driven subjects, however, they have little or no learning ability in transforming the material into applicable knowledge. For example, the rules of Afrikaans grammar may be taught from grade 4 to 10 yet do not extend to Afrikaans essay writing or poetry analysis in Grades 11 and 12.

Reading, writing and arithmetic remain the essential tools for implicit knowledge. Classical teachers teach learners how to learn by ensuring competency in all three of these “tools”.

Among those octogenarians mentioned previously there is consistent application of reading, writing and arithmetic in their daily lives. My insight into these stalwarts is that they read with a voracious appetite: newspapers, journals, fiction and non-fiction books.

The crux of learning can be filtered down to the push and pull factors of enabled learning, at any age. Learning, whether continual or context-specific, needs to carry the mastery of enablement.

It is in our youth that learning templates are set. The more encoded the template the greater the adherence to it. We develop a learning ability from the practice of learning over time.

Understanding any learning paradigm, by learners and their parents, is the fostering of optimal learning behaviour patterns or habits inculcated from an early age. For example, attentiveness, focus and appreciation for a feasible learning environment.

A study of Japanese pre-school children identified respect as a prerequisite to creating optimal learning behavioural habits in small children as young as four.

In a nutshell, these young children are not praised or rewarded for good behaviour, neither by their parents nor their teachers. Very little praise, if any, is given for what is deemed as normative behaviour that adults expect from the children.

These pre-primary schoolgoers understand their “place” in the social strata in which they thrive. They are “learners” and, as such, behave and have the mindset of learners.

What constitutes good behaviour in Japanese children is considered a social norm. According to Japanese societal norms and thinking, the fruits of one’s endeavours correlate highly with compliant behaviour. Compliant behaviour is a strength, whereas submissive behaviour is not.

One cannot dismiss the equation: a willing learner has a teachable spirit. Learning is, after all, a decision of the will. Society may set certain obligations for parents and teachers regarding learning. However, in the current world view, lifespan and lifestyle extend those former obligations.

Continual learning makes good sense and underpins healthy living and ageing.

Learning is a human endeavour. Although there is no guaranteed trajectory that facilitates optimal learning, certain attitudes, behaviours and personal undertakings are concomitant with mastery in any given ambit or discipline, at any age.

Ultimately, learning implicitly is for the betterment of others. Once one has mastered one’s field of expertise it becomes the seedbed for others to embark on a similar, if not improved, trajectory — a human chain of endeavour.

Mary-Ann Alho is a learner support practitioner with a BA honours degree in applied psychology from the University of the Witwatersrand

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