“I’m still learning.”
–Michelangelo: Italian Painter, Renaissance Poet, Sculptor, and Architect, at the age of 87.
Learning: the word is used routinely in everyday instances. For generations, we’ve been jostled to learn for building a fulfilling career. Learn, mug up, parrot, burn the midnight oil, hit the books etc. etc.! It doesn’t stop, no matter the age!
When cramming information for a test, one day my little one asked me “Why do we need to learn? What if I don’t want to?” This made me wonder why kids are repeatedly asked to learn? What’s the purpose if they don’t know why learning is important in life? Above all, the bigger question is —
What is learning?
Dictionary describes learning as an act of attaining new, or modifying previously-acquired knowledge, values, skills, preferences, behaviour, etc. through study, instructions, exposure, and exploration. Conventionally, learning is illustrated through idealistic examples and values, such as hard work, intelligence and sincerity. The definition is not completely applicable in real life when you look at it from a different angle.
Let’s take the example of Sven Magnus Carlsen.
- A Chess prodigy, world champion, and coveted grandmaster: at 13, Carlsen earned the highest honour a chess player can get—the Grandmaster.
- He won the Norwegian Chess Championship at 15 and became the youngest player to rank number one in the world at the age of 19.
- He defeated world-acclaimed chess players Viswanathan Anand and Sergey Karjakin to retain his titles.
Fans started worshipping the 27-year-old Norwegian genius for his aggressive opening style, endgame prowess, and positional mastery. They believed he could defeat anyone with his talent and intellect, even the computer. The world saw and admired his genius but failed to notice his persistence and relentless passion for learning, precisely, his grit.
As a child, Carlsen loved solving intellectual problems. Recognizing this ability, his father introduced him to chess when he was 5. Initially, he showed little interest in the game, unless the desire to beat his elder siblings at chess motivated him to master it. He had discovered his purpose! Since then, Magnus has been living and breathing chess. A major part of his training involved watching previous games to gain an upper edge over his opponents—a strategy that boosted his competitive abilities.
Like Carlsen, even you can master any trade by accumulating actionable bits of information—a process described as chunking. Reading books, seeking expert advice, observing and analyzing real-life instances around for insights will help you develop critical, logical and creative thinking.
Once you’ve experienced the never-ending thirst for knowledge, persistence will take you ahead. By putting in consistent efforts, Carlsen memorized the moves of the past champions. Every time he played with others, he conjured different moves to revisit the chunks of information that his brain had gathered over time. So, it isn’t the talent or genius, but efforts and strategies that count.
Many people judge these abilities as the manifestation of innate talent—a God gift. However,
Magus believes his success story is a product of continuous learning, deliberate practice and the belief that he can grow better, which guided his mindset.
Many people defy the bookish definition of learning. For them, the process is not restricted to a specific time period and space. It is an endless, relatively permanent, transformative cycle of—
- Picking up information
- Analyzing and mixing it with our experiences
- Testing and trying it to build something new on what we already know.
This brings us to the realization that learning leads to a positive change. It results from a combination of actions, inputs, and self-reflection, collectively contributing to our experiences. It clarifies the meaning of one’s life, involves testing of ideas and finding relevant and practical solutions to realistic problems that we encounter in the fast-changing environment around us.
“Learning empowers one to fulfill one’s purpose in life and increases the latent potential of future performances.”
One shouldn’t stop learning. Why? Because we consistently need new skills and knowledge to independently tackle challenging situations in life.
The 3 Stages of Learning: Immediate, Intermediate and Transitional
For a student, immediate learning through observation and instruction helps him find a purpose in life. Intermediate learning develops skills and cultivates intelligence in academically tenacious students. This is where the teachers and schools play an important role in delivering education. Transitional or long-term learning requires personality development, which is necessary for personal and social progress. This is something that requires self-reflection, based on the years of wisdom we’ve accumulated. To sum it up:
“Learning develops the mindset and cultivates skills to sustain oneself in this world.”