Are we ever or never too old to learn?

Man working at laptop

Photo credit: author’s own

Since leaving conventional work of in a CBD office working 9-5 (9-7 more often) , I have been looking for a new challenge. Learning has always been important to me … and I think it makes life more satisfying and interesting.  So I started thinking about this and wondering … are we ever or never too old to learn?

I listened to a Radio National Life Matters program “Never too old to learn” online here

There are lots of interesting people there sharing their stories  – and lots of people “up to a lot of learning”.  But – not everyone is like this.  Not everyone is curious or interested to learn new “stuff”.  Take technology for example – learning how to use computers, tablets and smart phones … or social media and how that works.  There are many who shudder at the thought … and others who revel in it.  I recently met a ninety-four year old woman who texts her grand-children, and has “face-time” with the one living in New York. WOW!

So – what makes the difference?

Perhaps it’s attitude? Having a willingness to adapt.  Being willing to give up something or some way of operating that is important to you, that works for you, has worked for you for some time, makes you feel comfortable and … competent.  Giving it up to try a new thing or a new way.  Some of those habits and ways may have been important to you for getting where you are, and probably contribute to who you are.  And I think quite often, there are surprises here about how learning new things affects our identity.  And that’s all about change.

You are never asked to do more than you are able without being given the strength and ability to do it.
~Eileen Caddy, The Dawn of Change

Is it attitude or mindset?

I had a look at the work of Carol Dweck.   She writes about talent and success, and the role of mindset in achievement.  Dweck talks about those with a fixed mindset, and those with a growth mindset.  To quote her:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. Source:

In essence this means, that if you believe that you can learn something through effort – and that you have what it takes to get started – then you can accomplish it.  But it is not just a mind-game!  It requires goals or objectives, working towards it and seeing your progress.

Learning also needs to be social.  Sharing ideas and showing others how to do things is a vital factor for “passing things on”. These days we can do that in real time or virtually.  Have you checked out the “how to ..” clips on YouTube?  They work!  What about MOOCs?  Have you tried one of those?  They are massive open online courses.  How do you find out about what is out there and available?  People “tweet” about them inserting a link to an article, blogpost, podcast, vodcast etc. Social learning is post all of its own.

People talk about lifelong learning.  Organisations talk about it in a career sense.  Governments support it in their local/community programs.  People build businesses with this idea in mind.  And of course, people write about it.  If you’re interested have a look at Stephen Harris’s 25 Principles to Foster Lifelong Learning. What you see in here as well, is that learning is social … and that is an important component in this age of technology.

SunriseHow do you foster a growth mindset?

Well I suppose, you could read Dweck’s book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Or, you could consider the list below which was summarised by someone who has read it!  And that’s the beauty of social learning – someone shares something with you that you may never have otherwise heard about.

1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfections.

2. View challenges as opportunities.

3. Try different learning tactics.

4. Follow the research on brain plasticity.

5. Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning.”

6. Stop seeking approval.

7. Value the process over the end result.

8. Cultivate a sense of purpose.

9. Celebrate growth with others.

10. Emphasise growth over speed.

11. Reward actions, not traits.

12. Redefine “genius.”

13. Portray criticism as positive.

14. Dissassociate improvement from failure.

15. Provide regular opportunities for reflection.

16. Place effort before talent.

17. Highlight the relationship between learning and “brain training.”

18. Cultivate grit

19. Abandon the image.

20. Use the word “yet.”

21. Learn from other people’s mistakes.

22. Make a new goal for every goal accomplished.

23. Take risks in the company of others.

24. Think realistically about time and effort.

25. Take ownership over your attitude.

Cited from:

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? 

An acquaintance (aged 57) told me recently he was learning to snowboard. He wants to get his APSI Level 1 snow boarding instructor certificate next year … before he gets too old to learn such things!  Will he be able to learn this?  Well with his mindset, and the skill he has as a skier – I think so.

So … are we ever too old to learn?  Depends on your mindset!

Neuroscience tells us more about learning and change as well, so we can better understand what is going on.  Look out for future posts on this!

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] you can learn to do it over time. A positive expectation of learning from mistakes and a “growth mindset” can increase your interest, result in greater persistence and ultimately better […]

  2. […] know different. Do you? I wrote about old dogs and new tricks in one of my early posts: Are we ever or never too old to learn? As a learning professional, I am particularly interested in lifelong learning, what enhances it […]

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