Post No.: 0077
I have studied many online courses or MOOCs so far, for personal development as well as just for curiosity and fun (I’ve participated in 6 more to date since starting this blog). Similar to how Stephen Hawking thought after being asked how he lived for so long despite his motor neurone disease – how can I die when there’s so much left to explore? I still have too many questions about this wonderful universe, humans and life to answer. This continuous yearning for learning has kept me going…
It’s the life-long learners who appreciate that they don’t know everything hence why they feel they must always continue to study throughout their lives. It’s those who think they don’t yet know enough who continue to have a thirst for asking questions and looking for more information. But no one knows everything (especially because the world of knowledge is constantly moving forwards) so really it’s the non-life-long learners who are the ones who think they know enough to not need to study anymore but whom actually need to study the most. Everyone should thus still be hungry for more knowledge no matter his/her current qualifications or experiences.
Life-long learners aren’t still taking educational courses (online or offline) because they need to catch up with non-life-long learners in what they know – they’re still learning because they recognise that there’s still so much that humankind in total has yet to know, hence it’s the non-life-long learners who are being left behind in their level of understanding of the world.
So someone who doesn’t think that he/she knows it all becomes a life-long learner, and since no one knows it all, everyone should really be a life-long learner. The truly highly-educated also tend to be more considered and less opinionatedly ‘I’m definitely right and you’re definitely wrong’ when publicising their opinions anywhere or when debating with others – due to understanding enough to know that most things are generally ‘a bit more complicated than they at first seem’, and sometimes as a result of their greater social intelligence too. Those who don’t want to listen and learn tend to be the ones who need to listen and learn the most!
By trying to keep up-to-date with the latest knowledge as a life-long learner, we can make better choices in life and refine or update our fuzzy beliefs based on all of the information currently available up to the state-of-the-art or cutting-edge – new information will continue to accumulate regarding a subject and that’s why we should continue to keep learning. There’s always something more one can learn. Woof!
Understanding a diverse and deep range of knowledge across multiple subjects/areas also means that one’s views must make as much unified sense as possible according to all these domains – one’s views must be reasoned, rigorously tested and consistent across multiple domains (e.g. across psychology, economics, physics, history, geology, astronomy, philosophy) and that’s more difficult to do the more one knows. But this cross-referencing is what will make one’s views more sound and robust. If one finding or conclusion pushed onto you and learnt from one place doesn’t marry well with something one has learnt from another place then one will realise that one or both of these things are likely to be wrong and this incongruence will need addressing. If you had just learnt about one finding or conclusion picked up from just one place then you’ll likely think that this fact or ‘fact’ is definitive and non-controversial, when it’s not if one had a view of the more comprehensive picture.
For example, if you learn via an old book on economics about the hypothesis that free markets will always self-correct or self-optimise because humans are rational, self-interested actors, but then also learn via lots of empirical real-world data in a psychology or more-recent economics course, or two, that humans are far from rational actors, then you’ll deduce that something about one or both of those two understandings cannot be correct (and with critical thinking skills, one should follow the empirical evidence over the on-paper hypotheses; furthermore, the hypothesis doesn’t tell us whether to prioritise short-term or long-term interests, there is ample real-world evidence of fraud in under-regulated markets (for which fraud and other crimes are precisely rational and certainly self-interested behaviours themselves when independent regulations and enforcement are weak), and any decent economics course would also teach about issues regarding public goods and externalities, for instance).
Or if you’re taught that the Earth is only about several thousand years old, but geological evidence, radiocarbon dating, DNA and evolution, fossil records, astrophysics and many more independent sources of data all contradict this and point to it being much, much older, then something here must give (and once again one should follow the conclusion that is supported by the preponderance of real-world evidence). Of course, whenever you discover that any findings from separate fields or areas accord with each other then they’ll naturally strengthen each other (e.g. acknowledging that dark-painted surfaces feel hotter than light-painted surfaces that have been left in the Sun, and understanding the runaway effect that white ice melting into dark blue water will have on the Earth’s temperature).
It may also be advantageous to have a wide and extensive education or upbringing that encompasses perspectives from all over the world (e.g. not just from the ‘Western’ world/Occident but also the ‘Eastern’ world/Orient). This is so you’ll experience different cultural and philosophical perspectives, and not become too naïvely one-side-biased for not knowing any differently than all you’ve experienced where you were born and raised. The language and grammar system used can sometimes shape the way we actually view the world too – we notice this when e.g. we sometimes cannot find the exact perfect translation of a word or phrase from one language to another, and if there’s no exact translation for something, there’s likely no concise concept of what that fluffy word is describing; or the order of words according to a language’s grammar system, or logogram/ideogram/pictogram languages, can make us visualise the world in a different way. (Now this does not mean that if we use a different language to someone else we must necessarily think differently to them. Culture and language don’t shape everything – humans have common genes and predispositions too. Humans are all still the same species as other humans and therefore all share basic, innate cognitive structures.)
Other commitments and responsibilities, and therefore time, is an issue for many, as is a lack of opportunities (e.g. no computer or Internet to even access free MOOCs). But less legitimate reasons for ceasing one’s academic study after university or school include thinking that other sources of information are adequate (but, putting aside the dangers of relying only on mass media or social media sources for our education, why would anyone spend all that money to go to university at all if these other sources were considered adequate enough to make us experts at anything? And why should we expect experts to be at least formally qualified in the subjects they claim expertise in if we think we can be equal to them with our own opinions having not studied the same?), that we automatically know enough already once we become adults (please read Post No.: 0046), or being afraid of having our ideas challenged and discovering what we don’t want to find if we looked more deeply and comprehensively at a subject – something that will shake our worldviews and make us feel like fools for having believed in and said the things we’ve said before. Maybe another reason is that most people don’t feel ignorant because most other people are likewise ignorant too (like not feeling sexist or racist in a place full of sexist or racist people).
Some may say that they don’t care, don’t need nor want to know anything more than what they already know, but you won’t know what you’re missing if so – including things that could change your very day-to-day perspectives and beliefs in a positive way regarding your own meaning to life itself. And I believe it should not be acceptable to forever give up on any important or fundamental core subject in life (e.g. elementary mathematics) just because one finds it difficult. You’ve only this one life so live it more fully by learning more about it so that you can make the most of it (even if you believe in reincarnation, your intellectual memories will evidently reset every time (otherwise there’d be e.g. gerbils who understand how to bake pumpkin pies from their past lives!), meaning that you’ll need to make the most of each of your individual lives!)
Life-long learning is not just for furthering one’s career path but for the benefit of one’s daily life e.g. being able to come from multiple different perspectives and to appreciate many different contexts and elements, to settle on better truths about how the world is and maybe how it ought to be. It helps us to get along with more people who understand different things. It could change your political stances, moral arguments and your conception of the meaning of life. You might learn things that most other people will never learn even to the day they die; yet these other people won’t know what they’ve missed.
The fields of science and ethics never stand still – thus if you stop formally learning you’ll fall behind the latest research and wisdom, information and evidence. You’ll become an intellectual dinosaur, outdated and outmoded, like possibly your parents or grandparents in your own opinion – but if you stop refreshing your own knowledge and learning for life then you’ll seem like an intellectual dinosaur to your own children! If you’re over 30 and haven’t changed at least some opinions and stances that you held when you were at Secondary/High school then you likely haven’t intellectually grown at all (or you didn’t learn or cannot remember much from that time!) because a lot of scientific knowledge, or at least pedagogy, has updated during this time (e.g. eye colour phenotypes were once taught as if being 100% genetically determined but they can actually be changed by way of e.g. injury or disease i.e. environmental factors).
Dinosaurs were cool but Furrywisepuppy vows never to become an intellectual dinosaur, and hopes you won’t ever become one too! I am incredibly passionate about education and this blog will continue to promote its virtues. I treat life-long learning like finding the time to fit in regular physical exercise for life. And if I ever say things that do become outdated or outmoded myself then I’ll accept that with grace because I will have grown since anyway.
Woof! Whatever age you are, please share with us what sort of subjects you like to learn just for fun or intrinsic interest via the Twitter comment button below?