5 habits of extreme learners

Extreme learners are like extreme athletes: they're "passionate and fearless," writes Milton Chen.

Chen is chair of the Panasonic Foundation and a senior fellow at the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Writing in Education Week, he explains that extreme learners may not be the people with the highest GPAs, but they love learning for its own sake and spend their lives seeking opportunities to learn new things.

Chen draws on interviews he conducted with extreme learners (who were mostly around the age of traditional college students) to share five habits any student or lifelong learner can borrow.

Habit #1: Extreme learners forge their own path

Chen's interviewees tended to be highly motivated and willing to go outside traditional pathways to pursue their interests. For example, one interviewee told Chen he dropped out of high school in 9th grade, then created his own home school, took classes at a community college, and volunteered at a local medical center.

Habit #2: Extreme learners constantly ask questions

These individuals have a strong sense of curiosity, and their interests tend to span fields across the arts and sciences, Chen writes. He shares the story of one interviewee who attended an arts-focused high school to study dance and creative writing—while simultaneously assisting an entomologist with a research study of beetles and biodiversity in the Yunnan Province of China.   

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Habit #3: Extreme learners find people to learn from  

Chen's interviewees sought role models, mentors, and people who shared their interests. While in high school, one interviewee built a worldwide network while researching his topic, published his research as a book, and served as the keynote speaker at conferences in the field.

Habit #4: Extreme learners use technology to support their learning

These individuals took full advantage of the internet's educational opportunities, which they used to access resources and practice their skills. Many interviewees had also built their own platforms, apps, games, and social networks to help others learn as well.

Habit #5: Extreme learners develop their soft skills

Chen's interviewees practiced collaboration, leadership, and resilience. One of his interviewees experienced homelessness for six months, then took courses at a maker studio and eventually launched a three-month program to teach 3-D printing to other people experiencing homelessness (Chen, Education Week, 12/11).

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