Excerpt from Chapter 10: Learning/Education

Lifelong Learning — April 2007

This is Spring Break week for lots of schools, including the ones my grandchildren attend. Naturally, they enjoy this break from their regular routine, but fortunately, they are all in good schools and generally are thriving in their learning experience.

It's important that children get a sense of the enjoyment of the learning process—because our formal education is only the beginning of what should be 'lifelong learning.' There's much more to learn than can be taught in school. In fact, what you know today is going to be outdated tomorrow, so it's not 'what you know' that's most important, it's 'how you learn.' The overwhelming goal needs to be 'learning how to learn!'

Learning really is a lifelong process. In fact, this ongoing learning relates to the way the brain undergoes significant neurological changes at different ages and stages of life, providing special 'windows of opportunity' for certain kinds of learning.

It begins before we're born when the early stages of the brain are developing. Then during the first year of life, a child's brain is being 'wired,' providing the foundation that allows them to maximize later brain developments. Based on neurological studies done in the 80s, there are additional important brain developments at around ages 7, 11, and 15—with full brain development not completed until age 21.

But that certainly doesn't mean that we quit learning and building 'connections.' In fact, the most important work of the brain can only be done by continuing the process that begins with a fully-developed brain. For instance, what we learn is only the raw 'information,' made up of facts and ideas. Then the information is organized in such a way as to allow for 'knowledge.' Finally, this knowledge is integrated into a whole that is more useful than the sum of its parts, allowing for 'wisdom.'

This kind of wisdom can also arise as a by-product of age—if the years have been spent continuing to learn. I'm personally pleased that older generations like my own are prepared to contribute to the learning process by passing down their insight, experience and wisdom to future generations.

As evidence of this ability for lifelong learning, I'd like to close with an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article (February 17, 2007) by Sharon Begley, "Parts of brain seem to get better with age."

"An emerging body of research shows that a surprising array of mental functions hold up well into old age, while others actually get better. Vocabulary improves, as do other verbal abilities such as facility with synonyms and antonyms. Older brains are packed with more 'expert knowledge'—information relevant to your occupation or hobby. They also store more 'cognitive templates,' or mental outlines of generic problems and solutions that can be tapped when confronting new problems."

It's good to know that everyone is capable of continuing to learn throughout their lives, so I hope you'll make a point to read and think and talk about a wide variety of issues, taking advantage of the rewards of lifelong learning.

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