Lifelong learning is more important than ever as we enter the 21st century. Learning to learn is key to success both in school and in the workplace. Student success is achieved when learners understand their different learning styles and use that knowledge to develop research skills and problem solving skills.
Learning to Learn
Mary Ellen McClanaghan explained the importance of teaching students how to learn in her article, “A Strategy for Helping Students Learn How to Learn.” McClanaghan said, “Helping students learn how to learn may be the most important lesson faculty can teach students. Life-long learners, capable of learning and working in diverse settings, are vital to the 21century society.”
According to McClanaghan, learning content alone is not enough to ensure student success. Content changes and becomes obsolete. Students must understand that learning is a continuous process. They also need to realize that in order to learn they must push themselves to do more than what comes easily to them.
How Teachers Can Help
How can parents and teachers help students to become lifelong learners? Carol Read explored the multitude of ways that we can support children in learning how to learn. In her May 30, 2010 post for Carol Read’s ABC of Teaching Children blog titled, “L is for Learning to learn,” the author said, “Even with very young children, it is both possible and important to include ‘learning to learn’ as an integral part of our lessons and to get children to think explicitly about how they learn (the process) as well as what they learn (the product).”
Read asserted that it is important to help children develop attitudes such as:
Like McClanaghan, Read believes that learners need to reflect on the learning process as a means for developing thinking, planning and questioning skills. Parents and teachers can help by:
- Modeling thinking and planning skills
- Helping students plan and organize their work
- Using tools such as lesson reviews and learner diaries
By the time children reach middle school parents often find it more challenging to act in the role of tutor and coach. The subject matter becomes more specialized and parents often feel challenged to keep up. A lack of resources compounds the feeling of helplessness. However, parents remain a primary influence and their support is crucial for their children’s academic success.
Krzysztof Grabarek explained the transition from elementary to middle school and how parents fit into the learning process in his article for Parent Academic Resources Incorporated (PARI) titled, “Staying Involved: Approaches to Helping Our Middle School and High School Students Learn.”
Grabarek explained how early learning relies on memorization but the learning process changes as students mature. The author adds, “Students who know how to learn typically understand (whether consciously or not) that learning is a process that always begins with a question or problem. Learning takes place when we answer these questions and then make the new-found understanding part of our prior knowledge. We can say that we have learned when we are able to do something that we weren’t originally able to.”
According to Grabarek, finding answers to questions involves the use of resources such as:
- Teachers, family and peers
- Books and other media
- Instruments and tools
- Trial and error
Even college students could use some help in learning how to learn. Students may be able to formulate their research questions but often lack the ability to fully exploit all the resources available to them — most notably the librarian.
Steve Kolowich illustrated how a lack of learning skills affects student success in his August 22, 2011 article for Inside Higher Ed titled, “What Students Don’t Know.” Kolowich noted, “Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian ‘would most likely never recommend for their topic.’”
We send our children through years of schooling in the hope that they will learn the necessary skills to become productive citizens who help make the world a better place. Of all the skills that students learn in school, the commitment to lifelong learning may be the most valuable.