“Knowledge worker,” a term popularized by management expert Peter Drucker, refers to an individual who develops and applies knowledge and information in the workplace. In 2008 it was estimated that knowledge workers outnumber all other workers in North America by at least four to one. Today, knowledge on just about anything is readily available at our fingertips on the internet and with this there has been a strong movement from knowledge workers to learning workers. What sets this age of “learning workers” apart is that instead of degrees and formal learning, these workers have the knowledge and the habit of “how to learn”. This skill to learn as you go, to quickly adapt and address new opportunities and situations is critical to the future increasingly changing work environment.
The key to this is Lifelong learning defined as the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. What is critical for all of us personally is to make learning a lifelong habit as it is good for your health, your social life and your wallet. Learning is positive for your health as there are well-studied relationships between longevity and education. Reading can dramatically reduce your stress levels and learning activities can delay symptoms of dementia. Have you noticed your own positive interactions with those who dedicate themselves to learning and who exhibit curiosity? And of course, ongoing learning and skill development is essential to surviving economic and technological disruption as the future of your career depends on lifelong learning. Benjamin Franklin stated “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest” and Mahatma Ghandi once said “live as if you were to die tomorrow…learn as if you were to live forever.” The long-term effects of intellectual complacency are just as harmful as the long-term effects of not exercising, eating well or sleeping enough.
What we must recognize is that while the old school (excuse the pun) formal approach to education continues, what happens after this schooling is more important and impactful. Think about how many people you work with who’s education was in a completely different area from the role they are performing today. Education truly should teach us how to learn and the rest is really up to us. What is ultimately important is to feed your natural curiosity and interest and utilize the vast resources, from “YouTube” recordings of on-line talks, podcasts, webinars, articles, blogs, books and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for learning on the go. Set time aside and also use your travel time, downtime and any other possible moments to feed your mind. What’s important is to develop specific learning habits which will be a route to both continued professional relevance and deep personal happiness. As Theodore Roosevelt wrote…a lifetime of learning can be a success in itself.
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