Perennial learning and how it helps to endure vagaries of ones ecosystem

The Parable

It was a Monday evening. While randomly scrolling down the internet page in my mobile phone, an interesting piece of news from a 2015 edition of Times of India caught my attention. A man named Padmanabha Chatrapaddy, while incarcerated in Mysuru jail, completed a string of degrees from prison which included PUC, B.A. B. Ed, M.A – all through correspondence. After his sentence got remitted, he enrolled in LLB course, for, his ultimate learning goal was to provide legal assistance to victims of injustice. Back then, he was working on his PhD thesis on ‘Punishment and Reforms’ from Karnataka State Open University.

Peter Drucker once said that “Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change.” Chatrapaddy’s tale is a glaring example of Drucker’s adage – a man who took learning as a continuous process of self-discovery and personal growth to cope with the churn in his life.

Understanding Learning and its clout

What is learning? Broadly speaking, it refers to an integrated and holistic approach to acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitude with an aim to promote self-growth. To cite an example, when a student of International Relations progresses to the next level of knowledge acquisition, she gathers wider as well as deeper inputs on evolution of global societies, international conflicts, concepts of nationalism and so on. She weighs her newly-acquired information against the previous ones and applies her critical thinking to gain in perspectives. Her knowledge gets translated to skills when she uses her perspectives in solving real-life issues; for instance, she could be playing a key role in drafting national policies on matters of national and global importance like defense, border settlement issues or environment. Her journey becomes complete when the learner undergoes a shift in attitude due to perspectives gained, that is, she is able to overcome her personal cultural prejudices, leading to a more balanced cross-cultural interpersonal exchange in her ecosystem.

Learning is a graded step-step process, which lies at the confluence of acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitude. Though the goal of learning is mostly self-growth and sustenance, the implications of continuous learning extend beyond self. The one who has gained sufficient insights can now act as a change catalyst in her ecosystem to impact and promote growth in others. The chain continues and multiplies exponentially till the wind of change has blown across the entire ecosystem.

The cycle of unlearning and relearning – Its imperativeness

Now what happens when one has reached one’s learning goal? Does one stop exploring new paths? We must understand that as time progresses certain ideas get obsolete and are therefore needed to be replaced with new ones. A new, faster, more efficient way of doing things gains ground as the old way gradually phases out. New technology and platforms gain in popularity as the old ones start gathering dust. Hence, there is a need to take a detour at times, a need to unlearn some of the old skills, knowledge, and attitude, imbibe and reinforce new learnings and try new innovations. It’s time to travel on a new learning path after taking that detour.

An organization, big or small, is a microcosm of a larger global ecosystem ridden with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). The Covid 19 pandemic and the resultant churn in the form of global economic meltdown taught us that in order to survive this VUCA, we need to embrace a consistent learning mindset. The most resilient survivor of VUCA is the one who uses learning as a tool to sail in the rough oceans of churn. As organizations gets more and more competitive due to large scale availability of skilled manpower and the external challenges of keeping up with the demands of changing times, sustenance in the same role requires exhibiting higher level of efficiency and productivity with each performance. This requires upskilling. In order to move up to a higher responsibility in the same domain or shift to a new role in a different domain, one needs to acquire new knowledge, new perspectives, new set of skills and even imbibe a new attitude. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence has resulted in a disruptive change in the labor market. Many of the manual, repetitive tasks mostly at the execution level have now been taken over by AI. However, it has also created new roles and responsibilities in strategic management areas in the form of AI Administrator, AI Instructor and so on. We need to brace up for this emerging trend.

Factors impacting learning outcome

Learning outcome and successful accomplishment of one’s learning goal depends on one’s cognitive ability and a few other factors. Learning curve varies as much from one individual to another as within the same individual across lifetime. It depends on several intrapersonal as well as interpersonal factors. With progression of age, an individual experiences a diminishing cognitive ability due to degenerative memory and ability to think critically, making it difficult to process new learning. Again, two individuals of similar age will not experience similar learning journey and will probably have qualitative and quantitative difference in learning outcomes due to variance in their cognitive ability. The other factors impacting an individual’s learning experience include access to resources and opportunities, personal commitment to learning, external motivators and so on.

The closure

In conclusion, we can say that irrespective of all the challenges and barriers to individual learning process, it’s the personal commitment which helps one to push boundaries and focus on the learning goal. The goal could be one’s survival in the ecosystem or to fulfil one’s aspiration of exploring new avenues or to simply gain perspective just for the fun of knowing new things – it should be enough to keep the learner motivated throughout the journey. Peer help and mentoring as external motivators lead to better adaptation and reinforcement.

Summing up with Albert Einstein’s quote: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

About the Author

Barnali Roy Choudhury is an author with a cumulative exposure of 18 years to training delivery, content creation and training quality control in education industry across various organizations, is currently serving as an Independent L&D professional as a Consultant Trainer for institutions and corporates in Soft Skills and ESL.

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