JIM Kwik was an exceptional student in school, but in an unfortunate way. After suffering head trauma at the age of five, learning anything was a big challenge for him. But he somehow struggled through school to qualify for college.

Once there, he decided to overcome his learning problems and enrolled in numerous courses. Being totally committed to studying, he forgot to eat, exercise and sleep well. His obsession soon took its toll on him.

One day, he was so exhausted he passed out in a public library, fell down the stairs and woke up in a hospital, broken, bruised and dejected.

Then came a nurse with a cup of coffee on which was written this quote by Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

After reading Einstein’s definition of insanity, Kwik realised that school and college had been great places to learn “what” but not “how”. He realised that if he were to overcome his limitations to learn, he would have to first learn how to learn.

Kwik started studying the art and science of learning, and within 30 days he could read faster, focus better and retain more. Within 60 days, his grades were on the upswing. And the rest is history — a story of trouble turned into triumph.

Kwik went on to become a learning expert and is now a celebrity, the chief executive officer of Kwik Learning and founder of Superhero You. He says: “Knowledge is power. Learning is super power.”

Losing the fire

Learning is not an alien activity; don’t we all start learning right after birth? If you watch how children learn, you can’t help but realise that you too were once a natural and continuous learner, brimming with curiosity to explore and learn.

But somehow, with age, that innate fire to learn was extinguished, turning us into reluctant learners who need constant prodding, nudging and incentives to embrace learning.

Soon the gap between our age and capabilities continues to grow bigger, paving the way for career stagnation and job insecurity.

Barriers to learning

What prevents us from learning naturally and continuously? There are two barriers:

•  Inability to connect dots: Somehow, most people still cannot connect the dots between their appetite for learning and their capability, and between their capability and market value in the fast-changing world around us.

•  Sub-optimal learning: Even if we do appreciate that continuous learning is essential, we have not been trained in strategies to learn more effectively.

Without fixing the fundamental problem — our own lack of desire and the ability to learn — it is hard to be a lifelong learner, even with abundant resources like books, educational courses, training, free online courses and so on — at our disposal.

But what is learning in the first place?

Three dimensions of learning

In an environment infused with constant pressure to “upgrade”, most people equate learning with pursuing some new certificate, diploma or degree course. That is a narrow view of learning.

Can you guess what percentage of your waking hours you would have spent in a formal learning setting (for example, a classroom or a training programme) by age 70?

Don’t be surprised to find that the figure is around 5 per cent. The more important question is, how do we spend the remaining 95 per cent of our time?

Fortunately, the concept of learning is much broader and involves the following three dimensions:

•  Knowledge: What we know is knowledge. For example, if someone knows about economics or mediaeval history or business management, that’s knowledge. Usually, we acquire knowledge through academic programmes, books and so on.

•  Skills: A skill is an ability to do something. So if someone can sell products, write code for software programmes or fix a malfunctioning escalator, that’s a skill. Skills are often acquired through both formal and on-the-job training.

•  Attitude: Perhaps the most important, but often ignored, dimension of learning is our attitude. Without growth in this dimension, the gains in the other areas — knowledge and skills — are often short-lived.

True continuous learning is about expanding all three dimensions and going to bed each night smarter than when you got up in the morning. How is that possible? By learning to learn.

Article by Atul Mathur, an engineer, technical writer and Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment-certified trainer. He will conduct a half-day workshop, Rekindle The Fire Of Learning, on Wednesday, July 30. To register, visit www.atulmathur.com, e-mail atul@atulmathur.com or call 9489-6150.