6 daily habits of successful lifelong learners

As technology continues to disrupt the workplace, students must build a habit of lifelong learning if they want to succeed in their chosen careers.

In fact, some of the most successful people today (and from history) have embraced lifelong learning, including Bill Gates, Anna Wintour, and Henry Ford.

Writing for Big Think, Kevin Dickinson identifies six habits that successful lifelong learners use to achieve their goals.

Habit 1: Cultivate a growth mindset

People with a growth mindset recognize that they will keep improving and learning over the course of their lives. But those with a fixed mindset may interpret early challenges as a sign they aren't "cut out for it" and become frustrated. Instead, lifelong learners recognize that they will always have room to grow, but that the process may not be easy, writes Dickinson.

Habit 2: Set SMART goals

Set learning goals that are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-defined (SMART), writes Dickinson. If the goal is too vague (ex. be more creative), learners won't know where to start. If it's overly ambitious (ex. write a bestselling novel), they'll feel overwhelmed.

Lifelong learners reflect on their personal goals and find small, concrete steps they can take toward them. As an added benefit, this approach can help learners rack up some easy wins early in the learning process and build their confidence.

Also see: 5 myths about learning, debunked

Habit 3: Spend five hours each week learning

Marathon study sessions have been shown to reduce learning. Benjamin Franklin set aside an hour each weekday to keep learning after he left school at the age of 10, writes Dickinson. Other supporters of lifelong learning recommend looking for any available opportunity to practice, revisit, or discuss the material. When you revisit information over time, the information becomes easier to retain and recall.

Habit 4: Test your understanding

Reading is fairly passive, and our brains remember information better when we interact with it more actively, explains learning expert Ulrich Boser. After reading something once, articulate what the author is trying to say and how the material differs from other things you've read, recommends Boser.

Bill Gates uses the margins of books to jot down his reactions and responses, turning his reading session into a conversation with the author. "When you're reading, you have to be careful that you really are concentrating," says Gates. "Particularly if it's a non-fiction book, are you taking the new knowledge and attaching it to knowledge you have. For me, taking notes helps make sure that I'm really thinking hard about what's in there."

How Bill Gates reads 50 books per year (and remembers what he learns)

Habit 5: Prioritize

Reflect on your learning goals and identify which lessons will help you take the biggest strides toward your goal. You may find that 20% of the content will lead to 80% of your progress. For example, if you're learning a new language, you can get off to a strong start by focusing on the most common words and phrases.  

Habit 6: Find motivation

This might be the most important shift a lifelong learner needs to make. In a traditional learning environment, students have strong incentives to learn the material (for example, to earn a good grade). But lifelong learners need to find their own motivation, writes Dickinson, whether it's to improve themselves or advance their careers (Dickinson, Big Think, 9/18).

What success means to your students, in their own words


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