A confident learner is a happy and productive one, and every teacher wants a class full of them...
When we talk about the lifelong learning mindset, we think about the cultivation of habits as opposed to just the achieving of goals. The lifelong learning mindset is more than just about the need to learn; it's about a desire to learn that lasts—you guessed it—a lifetime.
What does it mean for students to adopt such habits, and more importantly, how can we help them do it?
All our lives, we never truly stop learning. What makes our learning experiences either enjoyable or unpleasant is how we've been conditioned to react to them.
If we were taught as children that mistakes and failure are synonymous with not being good enough, then this is what we believe. Additionally, if that failure comes with some sort of punishment, we can ultimately become fearful of learning.
Now, imagine the opposite happens. Consider the effects of equating mistakes with opportunities for strengthening understanding and awareness. Think of how we reward progress as with a baby taking those first few steps before falling down.
We don't admonish the child for not taking one step more than we expected them to, do we? Instead, we celebrate the achievement that was made with joy and love. We clap for their progress and express gratitude that we were fortunate enough to bear witness to. The child becomes happy, encouraged, and determined to do even better.
That's why we must ensure learning is presented as a rewarding journey to students early on. If this happens, they are much more likely to continue wanting to learn as they grow older.
How to Foster the Lifelong Learning Mindset
- Embrace Proactive Failure
- Use Real-World Connections
- Let Them Take the Lead
- Promote Holistic Health
- Celebrate Success
- Focus on Their Interests
- Model Good Questioning Behavior
- Focus On the Journey, Not the Destination
The question is, what does encouraging lifelong learning habits mean for us as educators and parents? What are some of the things we can do in our daily practices to help this along? Consider the following suggestions as starting points for making it happen with your students.
1. Embrace Proactive Failure
Kids fear failure because they are often conditioned to believe it comes with a punishment. In turn, this added pressure stresses them out. To counteract this, assure them you will do everything in your power to help them not fail.
The lifelong learning mindset is more than just about the need to learn; it's about a desire to learn.
If they do fail (and they will from time to time), make it a useful experience. Recognize what went right and focus proactively on where the student can improve. In this way the student learns not to fear mistakes, since making them is an integral part of any learning process. Reference these tips on student feedback to guide you.
2. Use Real-World Connections
Students often wonder why they are learning what we teach them. This doesn't need to be explained so much as demonstrated. It occurs naturally through inquiry- and project-based learning challenges. Real-world connections that make practical sense is what they're all about.
It's also a good idea to step out of the classroom whenever you can. A lifelong learning mindset is cultivated in part through experiencing what's around us every day. Exposing kids to learning scenarios that are tangible, relevant, and hands-on will ignite that willingness to learn that every teacher loves to see.
3. Let Them Take the Lead
Teachers are no longer required to be the gatekeepers of all knowledge. As such, their role has over the years gradually become one of being a facilitator in the classroom. We now guide and encourage critical thinking and independent discovery. A lifelong learning mindset includes both these things at its core.
Help kids to discover and be comfortable with how they learn best. When kids who play sports perform poorly in a game, they know what they need to work on. Musicians practice the things that will help them get better. They don’t waste time with things they can already do well. Their learning is their own, and they do it willingly.
4. Promote Holistic Health
Mind/body health leads to a willingness and desire to learn. When the whole student is healthy they feel good; this promotes positive action in learning and discovery.
Good nutrition and exercise also come into play here. Encourage them to continue educating themselves about it beyond school as a part of personal responsibility.
The benefits of holistic health in our students are many and diverse. A healthy student (and teacher!) can look forward to things like:
- Improved alertness and concentration
- Quicker cognitive processing
- Better short- and long-term memory
- Significant decrease in age-related cognitive degeneration
- Mood stability
- Higher energy levels
- Improved nutrient absorption
- Better functioning of internal organs
5. Celebrate Success
If the class wins, the student wins. Remember all along that you are assuring victory by everyone. You truly believe that if anyone fails it’s because you didn’t do something. Your teaching takes on a whole new meaning and celebrations become meaningful because you celebrate lifelong learning, not merely the task at hand.
Students often wonder why they are learning what we teach them. This doesn't need to be explained so much as demonstrated.
6. Focus on Their Interests
Our digital students have dreams, desires, and likes just as anyone else does, and they're just as meaningful. In many ways, these interests dictate when and how they learn.
Start by asking about those interests, and getting a sense of why they're important to them. What makes them curious? What inspires them? It may surprise you just how much you all have in common with each other.
It's well known that students connect with learning that is relevant to their interests. No relevance equals no connection, and therefore no learning. Part of cultivating the lifelong learning mindset means constantly linking to concepts that will make kids stand up and take notice, and stretch them in different ways.
7. Model Good Questioning Behavior
Learning in life beyond school includes an ability to ask meaningful questions that can help us acquire useful answers. We spend much of our lives seeking new information and clarifying changes in what we already know. Good questioning habits are at the heart of discovery and gaining new knowledge.
A great practice with students is to ask them what they think. When they ask a question about something you can, situation permitting, respond with, "That's a really good question—tell me what you think."
This achieves a few things. First, it shifts the responsibility for learning to the student. Second, it places value on the student's opinions and insights. Third, it challenges them to think independently and critically. Finally, it guides them not to rely on their teacher for the answer to everything.
8. Focus On the Journey, Not the Destination
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. And Lao Tzu was definitely talking about the journey here. In essence, the journey of life that nurtures the lifelong learning mindset will keep us guessing and growing for as long as we live. As it should.
The day we stop learning is indeed the day we stop being curious. Life will present us with choices as to how we react to occurrences and situations that shape that journey. Even more important is what we choose to learn from them.
Our students are on a journey of learning in school that continues well beyond the classroom walls. A healthy positive lifelong learning mindset is the greatest gift we can give them to continue that journey with.
Here's to lifelong learning.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published May 10, 2018, updated October 8, 2021