What makes lifelong learning difficult

Curiosity is a basic instinct that humans and animals share. To fulfil our curiosity, we need to learn, so learning itself comes naturally to us from the day we are born. It is a lifelong skill that we have used and continue to use. Yet, it is something we all struggle with as we get to a different stage of life.

You may have found yourself struggling to begin reading a book or even begin an online course you just enrolled in. You probably have sat down in a class and realised afterward that you didn’t understand anything from the session. You may have once or twice dreaded going to training courses that you’ve been forced to attend.

If you have been in these types of situations, you — like many of us — have struggled with learning. But there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, just as it comes naturally for us to learn, it also comes naturally to sometimes find it difficult. Here’s why.

First, you may be among those who mistake learning for studying. Though both are all about gaining knowledge, the crucial difference is that learning requires you to go out and practise what you’ve learned and applied it, whether it is in your daily life or work.

Learning isn’t simply sitting down and reading that book you’ve been meaning to read. It is about applying what you have read. It could be used as a conversation starter or applied in a more concrete way in your job; the point is, that knowledge shouldn’t just sit inside your head unused.

Second, you have assumed constraints. These constraints could be anything that your mind creates that blocks you from learning. It could be real or not but you don’t know yet because it’s just in your head. It could be anything from a perceived lack of time, or demotivation based on an assumption that you may not do well in that particular topic.

I’m not just talking about sitting down and reading a book or taking a course. We tend to subconsciously restrict ourselves from learning, even from others. We become so fixated on our own opinions and what we know that opening up to new or different information is tough. Learning requires an open mind.

The best way to overcome your assumed constraints is to those assumptions. You’ll have to step out of your comfort zone to do that.

This brings us to the third reason — the assumed constraints are actually real ones that truly make it tough to learn. This means you have actually tested an assumed constraint and tried to overcome it, but it is a real obstacle to your learning.

Learning should always be about you and the change you want to create for yourself and others around you. If those constraints are blocking your journey toward development and change, you must evaluate your priorities and compromise.

For example, if time is your real constraint, evaluate whether that learning is important to you. If it is, set small goals to reach first, then set a schedule for learning and when you can use it in practice. By setting small goals, you’re able to reach them without having to sacrifice anything else you want to do.

Fourth, when it comes to learning, you will have to do some unlearning and relearning as well — and that may be the toughest part of continuous learning. We all pride ourselves on the knowledge we’ve gained throughout the years from school, our peers, and so on. But what learning entails is for us to sometimes unlearn what is no longer relevant and relearn new things that help us in our changing world.

Personally, I’ve found this quite difficult because forgoing what you once worked hard for can be demotivating. It is like becoming a beginner at something all over again. But that is the point of continuous learning — to always see yourself as a novice in the topic.

We all have our difficulties with learning even beyond the reasons listed above, but this is nothing new. The question you need to ask yourself is: do you really want to constantly learn to create impact and change?

If the answer is yes, you’ve got the right mindset for a lifelong learner and are well on your way toward meaningful change.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa