Saturday, January 03, 2015

Lifelong Learning (by Jeffrey Cufaude)

Guest Post: Jeffrey Cufaude

I talked in 'Finding your own river' about my excitement at the ongoing disruption of education. While information is becoming more freely available, one of the biggest attractions of 'expensive education' is the network. Even if you are able to get access to the same great content, how can you meet the same great people. Facebook is about people you know personally. LinkedIn is about people you have or might work with. You don't need to know people on Twitter. Think of it as a dating service for ideas. In amongst the usual noise of marketing and trolls, there are some amazing people on Twitter. You get direct access to an unfiltered filter of authors, thinkers, scientists, leaders, peace-makers, artists and doers and they engage!

I met Jeffrey Cufaude through Twitter. Jeffrey is a US-based designer and facilitator of high impact learning experience including conference keynotes and workshops. He currently is at work on his first book, Say Yes Less: Why It Matters and How to Do It. This essay is based on his 2012 TEDx Indianapolis talk (10 minutes) and an updated and expanded version (25 minutes) presented at the 2014 ACPA Convention. More info about Jeffrey can be found at Twitter: @jcufaude 

I think our banter started over the brilliance of Roger Federer, and then expanded to the lives of mere mortals.

Lifelong Learning
by Jeffrey Cufaude

Lifelong learning? I gave it a whirl once, but it's really not for me.

It's unlikely anyone who hopes to lead a good life in the 21st Century would ever say such a thing. We toss out "lifelong learner" as implicitly desirable, but I'm not sure we've sufficiently unpacked the obligations that come along with self-proclaiming ourselves to be one.

Doing so may be even more important given how many of us will live longer... much longer: what is required to be a lifelong learner when life is long? I'm finding four dimensions help me answer the question: (1) increasing diversity, (2) ongoing discovery, (3) personal discipline, and (4) intentional disruption.

1. Increasing diversity ... of the content we consume, the communities in which we interact and contribute, and the connections we make in our personal and professional networks. It is not uncommon that later in our life our range of experiences begins to narrow. The types of life changes that force us to broaden out or start anew often become less frequent: job changes, geographic locations, et al. Lifelong learners know the value of continually diversifying the people, places, and publications that they explore and engage in periodic self-examination to ensure they do so.

2. Ongoing discovery of the possibilities of the diversity we encounter as opposed to automatic dismissal of perspectives that don't ring true with what we already believe or know. But the accumulation of our life experiences and the meaning we have made from them often rejects new findings that don't correlate and we succumb to confirmation bias.

Diversifying our experiences is of little value if we don't approach them with the curiosity of a beginner's mind: open, receptive, interested. Doing so requires sitting longer with what we are experiencing (observations) before trying to make meaning from it (inferences). See the ladder of inference for more information about this phenomenon.

3. Personal discipline to facilitate increasing diversity and ongoing discovery can be likened to both compounding interest from regular savings and interval training on a treadmill. Regularly set aside a small amount of money on a consistent basis and over time the reinvested interest and principal can amount to quite a lot. The same is true for small, but doable bites of lifelong learning. They accumulate value regardless of how small our ongoing investments. One "savings" habit that is part of learning discipline is to routinely hang out (read, write, etc in new environments. Routine immersion in different spaces populated by different people causes me to think differently.

Building cardiovascular endurance also requires interval training (interspersing shorts bursts of maximum effort with brief rest periods and the repeating immediately), particularly for longtime exercisers who have hit a plateau with their normal workout regimen. The same is true for lifelong learning: we need ongoing "steady state" learning that is comfortable for us to do, but as we age it increasingly needs to be coupled with interval learning in which we take short, but deep dives into content or a community.

4. Intentional disruption of our discovery, learning, and meaningful-making systems is inevitable if we want to avoid our once helpful routines becoming limiting ruts. Unlike a Twinkie, no personal discipline process can last forever. Forcing yourself out of a routine lets you disrupt yourself before the demands of the world around us do it to you.

As author Marina Gorbis notes in The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the SocialStructured World "The new system of learning is "best conceived of as a flow, where learning resources are not scarce but widely available, opportunities for learning are abundant, and learners increasingly have the ability to autonomously dip into and out of continuous learning flows."

Living longer requires learning longer. May we all be successful at both.


In writing a blog about several topics in which I admit to being a complete beginner, I am going to have to rely heavily on the people I am writing for who cumulatively know most of what I am likely to learn already. I would love it if some of you found the time to write a guest post on the subject of happiness or learning. The framework I use for thinking about these things is what I call the '5 + 2 points' which includes proper (1) exercise, (2) breathing, (3) diet, (4) relaxation, (5) positive thinking & meditation, (+1) relationships, (+2) flow. Naturally if you would like to write about something that you think I have missed, I would love to include that too. If you are up to doing something more practical, it would be awesome if you did a 100 hour project and I am happy to do the writing based on our chats if that is how you roll. Email me at 
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