Five Qualities of Lifelong Learners

clip_image001.jpgHe sat in the large auditorium on the campus of a small Christian college.  Chapel would begin soon.  Students began to fill the auditorium.

He was a longtime professor at the college.  For many years he taught undergraduate Bible classes.  He was a student and a scholar.  Long ago, he had earned a Ph. D. in New Testament and continued to learn and grow for many, many years.  Today was no exception. 

As the chapel program began, a young undergraduate walked to the lectern to "make a talk."  The old professor did what was his custom each day in chapel.  He opened his notebook and, with pen in hand, began to take notes of the young man’s talk. 

One day, a colleague asked him about this habit.  The old professor explained that he wanted to learn and grow.  He said "I never know when I might learn something.  So I want to be ready to write it down."

What are some characteristics of people who are lifelong learners?

1.  Lifelong learners intend to grow, develop, and mature.  I have found that much learning is "on purpose."  Not all of us learn in the same way.  However, I do believe that we are at an advantage when we desire to learn and intend to learn.

2.  Lifelong learners know that there are many, many ways to learn.  For example, I have learned much from reading.  I can point to several biographies and a few other books as well that have been important in my growth and development.  We also learn from people.  This morning I had breakfast with one of the most gifted people I have ever known.  For many years my friend has asked me important questions that have caused me to think about my life and about the way I minister.

3.  Lifelong learners are humble.  It is a good thing to learn from leading experts, top professors, and prolific authors.  However, am I willing to learn from one of my peers?  Am I willing to learn from one who has less experience or formal education than I?  Am I willing to learn from someone who is younger than I am?  Am I willing to learn from one I have helped to mentor?  (See Cliff Barbarick’s excellent post.)  Humility means that I could be wrong about something.  Humility is to acknowledge that I may know very little, if anything, about a particular area of life or work and that I am willing to listen. 

4.  Lifelong learners have learned and are learning.  (I read this somewhere but at the moment the source is unknown.)  There is nothing arrogant about acknowledging that I have learned something.  I have lived, thought, and studied for a number of years and I can honestly say that I have learned a few things about life and ministry.  At the same time, I continue to learn. I don’t think that one ever arrives.

5.  Lifelong learners maintain a healthy curiosity about life, God, and the things that matter most.  So often men and women lose any sense of curiosity and settle for their self-imposed ruts.  On the other hand, those who remain curious are willing to experience something different.  Perhaps I listen to music I don’t normally listen to (easily possible if you use Pandora).  Maybe I watch a television program about a part of the world about which I know nothing.  I might take a different route home from work.  At the restaurant, perhaps I could order something different.  I have found that making such choices nurtures my curiosity.  This curiosity is something I don’t want to lose.

What about you?  What do you do to intentionally live as a lifelong learner?

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  • http://www.theparablelife.blogspot.com Michelle Van Loon

    I’d like to underscore number 3 on your list. For a good portion of our lives, we’re instructed by those older than we are. Somewhere between ages 40 and 55, many of us realize that someone younger than we are is in a position of some kind of authority over us. We will likely have a doctor, pastor, boss or even a president younger than we are. We all encounter this reality as we age. The teachability factor in our lives means that we want to really hear what these younger voices – both authority figures and, even more important, younger friends – have to say. If we minimize or dismiss what they  might have to teach us simply because we’ve lived longer, we shut down an important pathway God uses to speak into our lives. (Scripture’s Exhibit A – Timothy. Exhibit B – Jesus and the little children.) I am learning this now, because I’m smack-dab in the middle of that middle-age range, and I’ve had to face a bit of pride I didn’t know I had as I’ve been taken to school by younger leaders and friends.   

  • http://givemelivingwater.wprdpress.com Ken

    In answer to you guestion, "What are you doing to keep learning?" I have begun looking for the little phrases and nuggets in scripture that I have missed over all the years of study. It is amazing how many stand out when you are looking for something new. Every time I read God’s Word he points out new things I have missed before. What treasures of new blessings are in God’s Word.

    • Jim Martin

      Ken,
      I like what you are doing. You begin with the assumption that you have much to learn in Scripture and then you read. That has to impact what you actually discover and learn.

  • http://oo24.blogspot.com/ Dave

    A great post. I fully agree with Michelle’s assessment of #3. Until we admit that there are things we do not know we will never learn. How do I keep learning? I have been blessed to work in a university setting, and here it is almost hard to not learn. Like the old professor in your post, I know that every one has something to teach us. Knowing this though doesn’t mean we will actually learn anything. We have to listen to people too. I know that is very easy to say, but I also know how much effort it takes. And so do you. Thanks for listening. Make it a Great Day!

    • Jim Martin

      Dave–Thanks for your comment and for the reminder that such learning takes intention and effort.

  • http://asthedeer.com Chris Brundage

    Thanks for this post.  I like #5 especially, maintaining a sense of curiosity about life.  I’ve seen people for whom curiosity has died, and it’s a sad thing.  I learn mainly through reading and through reflecting on the sliver of experience life brings me.  Peace to you today.  

    • Jim Martin

      Chris,
      You are so right about the loss of curiosity being a sad thing. Coupled with that is often a loss of joy and the simple gifts God gives us each day. A sunrise. A sunset. Rain. Food to eat. People to love and be loved by. These things are just taken for granted or they may be acknowledged but they no longer bring any joy.

  • Jim Martin

    Michelle,I appreciate your comment and in particular, your noting that it is God who often wishes to work through those who are younger to teach the rest of us something.Thanks so much.