We MUST Prepare College Students to Be Strategic Lifelong Learners

We live in an age where it is fully expected – should I even say, required – for us to continue to rigorously learn subject matter and skills long after our days of organized education. Whether one chooses to pursue a college degree or not, our fast-paced society now calls for all of us to stay on the studious path of learning in order to keep up with our colleagues and the workplace in general.

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I know, I know…this is not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s definitely not a new thing. There’s always been one more certification to get or one more training to take or one more book to read. The difference now is that there is an understated but very significant amount of pressure on everyone in the “real world” to learn that one more thing.

Lifelong learning is morphing from an invigorating and empowering personal decision into the new, messy, and unofficial educational requirement of the 21st century.

I get it. Technology has caused the pace of our society to quicken. Innovation! Disruption! Algorithm and AI! While this brings some great changes to the world at an unimaginable pace, it also puts a lot of pressure on the people who do not choose which technologies quicken that pace. And that’s like, most of us! The result then, is that nearly everyone needs to learn about these new technologies, the professional skills to navigate these technologies, and the work dynamics that result because of these technologies, or risk being left behind.As a higher education professional, I think most about what this means for college students as they prepare for the “real world.” They are entering a world where they are expected to be masters of lifelong learning pretty much from the time they graduate. This wouldn’t concern me as much if lifelong learning wasn’t such a normally unstructured phenomenon. Yet our society is subtly making this unstructured phenomenon more of a requirement to “get ahead.” That’s bound to cause confusion at times, right?

Thus, for those of us in higher education, it’s time to ask: if lifelong learning has become such a requirement to advance in the 21st century, and learning for the sake of learning does not necessarily lead to professional progress these days, how can we help college students prepare to be strategic lifelong learners? Yes, there is the imperative to help students “learn how to learn,” and also instilling in them intellectual curiosity. These are critical. However, there is now a necessary craft to lifelong learning that perhaps we don’t focus on enough in academia. Even if a graduate has “learned how to learn,” if he or she is unable to curate resources, integrate them into their daily routines and the challenges of life, and strategically figure out how to make lifelong learning work for his or her goals, that graduate may struggle in this fast-paced society.

The bottom line: we need to ask if we are doing enough to prepare our students to structure the unstructured.

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Image courtesy of FreeImages.com/Liz Ashe

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