Learn how to reset how you think about learning, if you only relate it to your traditional school experience. Instead, think about learning as a lifelong pursuit.
- Now if you don't think you have a learning mindset, I'm going to guess you don't remember having a great time when you were in elementary school or in college. But now you have a great opportunity and a great responsibility to create your own learning experiences for yourself. You may need to completely reset how you think about learning, though, if you only think about traditional school. If we're all going to truly develop a learning mindset, we need to think of it as a lifelong pursuit. Many of our preconceptions about learning were developed way back in school, and that's unfortunate.
How is it possible that a school system intended to help us learn was so often unsuccessful at encouraging all of us to develop a learning mindset? Well unfortunately it's by design. In the western world the role of schooling was shaped during the transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. Think about it, when so many of us were working on farms in the 1900s, our only likely options for formal learning were either home schooling or that one-room schoolhouse. But as we transitioned from working on farms to working in factories, our country needed a workforce of trained workers, so we created something called high school and we designed schools like we designed factories.
Rather than having kids of all ages learning together in a schoolhouse, we needed to train millions and millions of kids to do reading, writing, and arithmetic, so we grouped them by age because that was the most efficient thing to do at scale. We taught them all the time same things at the same times in their young lives and we invented mass testing so we can make sure they all learn those things. If that sounds like a factory, it's because it was, and it is. Look, there are many kids who are successful with the traditional model of education.
I was actually a pretty successful student in elementary school. But when I hit high school, I just fell off the rails. I went to a public college prep school and I was unready and unhappy, and my grades tanked. The traditional learning model didn't work me anymore and I became deeply disillusioned with school. I found my own learning path wasn't in formal education. It turns out it was in learning by doing. Now before you think I'm trashing an entire educational system, it's very important to make several key points about our traditional education.
First, the vast majority of teachers are some of the most hardworking people on the planet. I'm sure you had at least one teacher you remember who had a huge and positive impact on your life. Hopefully there were many more. Second, there's a huge difference between education when we're young, when we're of college age, and when we're adults. Some of us found we can thrive in learning at one point in our lives but maybe not quite as much in others. I want you to be successful whenever you want to learn.
Third, there are many hopeful signs that our understanding is changing about what makes for successful learning at the different stages of our lives. We just have to blow up the current model. So what is that model? Author Richard Bolles called it The Three Boxes of Life. Nobody told you when you were young that your life would actually be lived in three sequential phases. The first was a big chunk of education. The second's a big chunk of work. The third is a big chunk of leisure in what I call the period formerly known as retirement.
Now that arc may have worked fine in an earlier time, but in a time of constant change, we have to think differently. We all need to practice lifelong work, lifelong leisure, and most important, lifelong learning, every one of us. That means overcoming any challenges from early learning situations by understanding what works best for each of us. It just so happens that we're living during a time with a wide range of learning options.
Lucky for you, because as you develop and hone your learning mindset, you'll have many ways to design your own learning journey.