by Latasha Strachan
When last have you been asked to learn something new? Have you had to learn to type, to text or to use an automatic teller machine? Learning is not a fixed or finite thing that we do today and then refuse to do tomorrow. A refusal to learn is a refusal to adapt. To stay engaged and relevant in our world, it is vital that we keep learning and flowing with change. Self-help magazine and blog headlines constantly bait us with the five, 10 or 20 steps toward some commonly sought-after goals, such as losing weight, finding love or creating wealth. Yet there is rarely a candid discussion about how to cultivate a desire for learning.
Cultivation is a common word when we refer to crops and land. In that context, it is about preparing and nurturing the environment in order to get maximum yield. In agriculture, we want to prepare the soil to give us maximum returns for our labor. The best way to do that is to nurture the soil. Clear it. Treat it. Enrich it so that the crops have the best possible chance to not only grow, but grow in large healthy quantities. It is not that we can’t plant things in soil that is not cultivated, but the crops will most likely struggle and suffer. The outcome will be hit or miss. In the end, there is a high chance that the lack of readiness will result in a small and weak harvest.
To cultivate a desire for learning is a similar kind of task. If the mind, heart and spirit are prepared for learning, then we have optimum chance of growth and fruitfulness.
Perhaps you are the type of person who doesn’t want to read a sign on the road, let alone an entire book. You may have just enough time to do the essentials, with no space for the luxury of an evening class. You wouldn’t be alone. However, learning is a part of the human identity. We all come into the world hardwired to learn.
Children who are just being introduced to the world don’t really need us to tell them to learn. As their instinctive and impulsive behaviors eventually give way to choice and decision-making, they study the lessons that our environments give them and they learn how to survive. No one has to tell a baby that it is time to hold on and pull herself up. Intuitively, she identifies with her environment and the need to walk. Without instruction or understanding, barring any cognitive or motor disabilities, she will learn to walk. So how do we maintain and cultivate this part of ourselves that has been with us from birth? The two ways that are most natural, innate and need no special circumstances are curiosity and desire.
First is to embrace curiosity. Forget the old cliché “curiosity killed the cat.” Curiosity is actually a key component of all learning. An inquisitive person is a seeker, one who is looking for answers. Allowing ourselves to question our surroundings, beliefs and knowledge base is an excellent way to prime our minds for new learning experiences. By seeking our answers to problems and questions, we are training our minds to believe that the appropriate response to challenge is to learn and grow.
Second, we must get in touch with desire. Desire has unfortunately gotten a bad reputation because it is usually connected to needs or wants (and is subsequently considered a selfish thing). We feel desire because we don’t have, or because we want more, and we are sometimes ashamed of this. However, desire is a neutral feeling that can serve as an excellent catalyst for learning. For example, when a desire for a higher salary or larger home kicks in, we can satisfy that by going in the positive direction of learning and changing in order to achieve a set goal. Whether it is gaining more credentials in order to get a promotion or learning construction so you can manage your own building project, learning is a positive results-oriented response to desire.
Another way to cultivate a thing is to introduce an external system to improve upon what is already present within us. This is the process that we are most familiar with because it is what we do in formal educational settings. Through labor and study, we refine our know-how and become proficient in what we learn. Let’s not forget, though, that schooling is formal, but learning is not. Learning is natural. The most ideal educational situation is one where persons leave the formal learning environment with the innate tools (curiosity and desire) still intact.
We are able to continue learning not because we continue school, but because of an innate need and ability to adapt to new circumstances. Don’t try to curb or hijack the learning process by stifling desire or curiosity. The more you engage these, the more you will learn and apply skills and information that you previously did not have or possibly even knew you would need. • Latasha Strachan is the director of academic affairs at the Queen’s College Centre for Further Education. She can be reached at email@example.com. Find out more information about the Centre for Further Education on Facebook or at www.qchenceforth.com.