Children face a world that is changing quickly. The careers that they start in their 20’s may morph dramatically even within a decade. To prepare them for a world filled with rapid change, we can follow the advice of Cal Newport in So Good They Can’t Ignore You and so many others: teach children a love of learning and how to really engage with the process, which can be difficult and even uncomfortable at times. If we teach our children how to learn and to engage with learning in a regular, focused way as part of their regular lives, we empower children to have greater control over their own success and hopefully set them up for better professional and personal lives.
When Learning Stops, Our Progress Stop
When we stop learning new things, new skills, we become less competitive and our knowledge may become outdated. This is particularly problematic in certain professional fields and less so in others. If we dig in our heels and refuse to be uncomfortable not knowing or being able to do something easily, our stubbornness may ultimately kill our chances of promotion and upward mobility. Many people plateau in their careers because they fail to continue the process of learning that is needed in order to reach the next step. Just coming in and doing the work day in and day out may not be enough to show the boss that you’re the best candidate for a higher level and the accompanying rewards.
Building a Habit of Learning Benefits More Than Our Paychecks
On a personal level, learning new things adds to our quality of life. The richness of our mental vibrancy actually benefits our physical health, as well. Older adults who engage in mentally stimulating exercises are more likely to have less pain and are generally healthier.
But, that all focuses on adults and the benefits of a learning.
Children who are taught how to learn and that it’s okay to struggle have better outcomes than children who are praised for the outcome (the “A”). The children who learned perseverance were rewarded for the process (“I’m so proud of how hard you worked”). Individuals accustomed to success who suddenly hit a snag in achievement or who discover that the task before them is challenging in an uncomfortable way may end up giving up on the task and the learning before them. Children who are taught that learning can be difficult but working through it is valuable and normal push through and can conquer challenges that “more gifted” peers end up setting aside. Persistence is valuable.
As Times Change, We Need New Skills
Just a few decades ago, computers entered American homes, and few people knew how to type. As a culture, there was an emphasis on learning to type and understand computers. As a result, a large percentage of the population can now type with relative ease and perform advance functions on computers and phones.
Other changes that consumers have encountered or have infiltrated our lives: smart phones, online shopping, targeted marketing including through Facebook, home food delivery and meal preparation, and ebooks.
Not everyone uses or experiences those items on a daily basis, but they profoundly affect our lives, the services that people can receive, and the job market.
Adults encountering change in the labor market can learn new skills. It can be difficult, and many people refuse. But, those who focus on learning and are able to adapt are able to find new paths even when old job sectors crumble. Even without an entire sector suffering, the addition of new career capital, as Cal Newport refers to the acquisition of new skills and learning, can accelerate our professional path and give us more autonomy over the paths that we take.
How Do We Encourage Kids?
In order to help children understand that there is value not just knowing a fact but in dedicating the time and particularly effort to learning, we have to focus on their process and praise the actions, not the product. When a child brings home a report card, praise the hard work, dedication, and good efforts exerted, regardless of the grade itself. Only praising the product of the grade “I’m so glad you got an A!” can be counterproductive.
The same process applies in the realm of sports. Praising the good work, how happy the child seems to be engaging in it, and the effort and dedication are more likely to result in the child positively engaging further in the sport and performing better. Elite athletes point to having received these sorts of encouragements from parents. Those who focused only on the goals and points were less likely to continue to push forward because once they failed to make those points, they felt like failures and gave up. Pushing through the difficulties because they were still being recognized for how hard they were working allowed athletes to feel good about themselves during what could have otherwise been a painful moment. And so, they did not give up but took to heart moments of intense learning and training as part of their personal goals.
How Do We Encourage Ourselves?
As adults, we can set aside regular times for us to learn new things. We may have a few minutes on the weekends or evenings outside of work. We may be fortunate enough to have even a half hour here and there during the workday. Put time on the calendar to create career capital for yourself:
- learn a new thing,
- write an article that will put you in the spotlight at work and outside, dig deeper into industry news, or,
- just read something that may help you think more deeply or understand in a new way.
Learning Can Be Fun and Engaging for All Levels
There are a variety of apps, games, and more that can make learning fun and help spur us. Gamifying the experience by earning badges or other rewards for achievements has been shown to be an incentive for all ages. Even if the resource your child uses doesn’t have badges or stickers as part of the game, you can grant badges for the child completing a course, track, or spending a certain amount of time on the work each week.
Apps can allow for mobile learning in short time periods like during commutes.
- SoloLearn – learn software programming
- Cram – flashcards on a variety of learning topics. May be useful for schoolage kids studying for tests as well
- Duolingo – learn languages
These sites can track learning paths, recommend new material, and be free. Know that you’d like to learn ‘computer science’ but don’t know where to start? These can be good ways to get started and lead to more discoveries of fascinating, previously unknown topics:
- PBS Kids – includes lots of games with an educational aspect for toddlers and up
- Digital Public Library of America – includes material from libraries, archives, and museums. Be sure to check out the Exhibitions area.
- Khan Academy – Free and focused on learning paths appropriate for all ages. Includes videos and articles
- YouTube #Education – Browse topics like “business” but let yourself be fascinated by the variety of fascinating other topics you’ll see. It’s like browsing a library bookshelf and allows for more ‘aha!’ moments than some sites that focus more strictly on learning paths.
- Your library – Please visit your library website. They vary so much that I can’t link here to anything but the New York Public Library. Talk with a librarian to know the extent of the resources at your disposal. You may have access to digital collections, ebooks, subscriptions, and more. Plus, this access is free. You likely have full access to periodicals like Harvard Business Review. There are also digital collections with videos, entertaining ones like on TV and educational ones. Your library may also have live presentations and performances at the library itself. Have a teen struggling in school or want technical training? Many libraries have volunteers offering mentoring services after school and classes on a variety of topics.
Prepared coursescan help you learn a topic in-depth and even connect with other students learning. Not all are free, but there are many free ones available on sites like:
Even games can be educational.
Books, magazines, and newspapers are also good sources for expanding our mental horizons. Magazines that focus on pure entertainment may not have the calibre you may want for mental stimulation and learning. But, excellent options exist, and you can find them bookstores, libraries, and in digitized form online.
Support good writing and journalism if you’re able to afford a subscription. These are powerful venues not just for society being aware of the world. Having complex information shared with us allows us to be more informed citizens. These journalist venues are also powerful for maintaining our democratic state.
Incorporating learning as a part of regular lives prepares us to conquer new challenges and not be afraid of change. Teaching our children to appreciate, if not love, the process of learning and to recognize the good that it can do for us is one of the most powerful things we as adults can teach them.
But, learning isn’t just for children. Regardless of whether you have 15 minutes a week or half an hour every day, setting aside time to increase your own career capital can be worthwhile for yourself. And, if children see that you make learning a priority for yourself, they may be more likely to follow your example.
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