Developing the Lifelong Learning Attitude

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In professional careers, people need to learn new things quickly and effectively to deliver and perform and there is no place for any excuses.
Since ages, we have believed that learning is a lifelong process which helps us not only in gaining knowledge and updating it, but also in overcoming our weaknesses, failures and hurdles. This not only applies to our daily lives but also to our professional lives. However, the fact is that people avoid new learning to the extent possible at every stage of life - the most common human behavior towards the learning process. 
We try to hide this weakness of ours - the 'non-learning attitude' - and keep on learning this art of hiding in schools, colleges and professions too. As students, we try to hide our weakness of not learning from the lessons and not understanding the contents or inputs given to us. We avoid asking questions in the class. We avoid interactions and try to pretend that we have understood everything of the input given by the teacher and we also act as if we know more than what is being given! 
We actually don’t allow the learning attitude to get formed in us during our school/college days. Later, as a professional when we lack this learning attitude, we again try to hide this weakness through the authority of the positions we hold, escapism from accountability and avoidance of responsibility. But this hiding of the learning attitude has a limitation in professional careers. In professional careers, people need to learn new things quickly and effectively to deliver and perform and there is no place for any excuses. One cannot achieve a remarkable success with a weak learning attitude. Also, without the learning attitude, aspects like sustaining success and gaining due respect and desired recognition in a profession becomes out of question.
The learning attitude makes a whole lot of difference in professional approaches. 
This learning attitude and behavior starts to develop during our student life in schools and colleges in association with our upbringing by parents, the environment we get, the knowledge we gain and the personality we develop. In fact, for every individual, bringing change for a learning mindset depends on four elements: 
• Basic beliefs  of the individual 
• Formed attitude during upbringing 
• Preference one develops
• Perception towards objects and subjects
Beliefs are too hard to change as they exist for the protection of one's self-image under any kind of changes and one tries to defend one's behavior through them. Preferences are the results the parental/cultural upbringing process of individuals towards particular action or reaction related to one’s behaviour and hence, become difficult again to change in general. Perception is the outcome of our experiences, references and environments, and depends on individuals. So, the factor which can be handled effectively is our attitude which can be changed for a lifelong learning despite its formation at an early age. It is responsible for effective learning and permanent change in our behaviour. Attitude can be changed effectively through a well defined pedagogy to impart the learning attitude effectively to bring a change in the mindset. 
Professional education institutions are actually accountable for this mindset change process in budding professionals. Good institutions believe in this aspect and feel responsible to bring this attitude change in budding professionals through quality inputs. Professionals coming out of such institutions with a learning mindset prove to be very effective pillars of respective industries in the long run. Attitude change for a lifelong learning process and a receptive mindset is needed for effective and efficient professional performances and for attaining and sustaining success and handling the changes/challenges arising continually in the real professional world.
Theoretically, attitudes are learned predispositions which can be vaguely understood as an individual's response to a particular situation. An individual varies in his behavior and reacts differently in different situations. This is an art to learn to learn the art of learning. If you develop the attitude of learning, knowledge will come to you and your personality will develop to deliver results and in turn, your behavior will get refined to establish you as “good, knowledgeable professional”. The sense of responsibility and accountability comes with this attitude change for lifelong learning. As human beings, our personalities are developed since our childhood (Freud’s theory) in different stages of life through learning. Learning is a process that depends on the mindset to accept change through learning and it leads to long-term changes in behavioural aspects of all respects.  
For a learner, his/her mind becomes open to new things to learn, new idea generation , acceptance of new ideas , accepting critic, listening criticism of decisions and actions, open to suggestions, advices and improvisation at every step in his/her personal life as well as in professional careers . On the other hand, when someone is a non-learner he/she develops a unique characteristic of becoming self-confined to live in his/her own paradise (rather fool’s paradise). Such non-learners feel themselves as “successful” for whatever they achieve and however they achieve. They don’t realize the real quantum or the level of success they could have achieved actually with a learning mindset. They always compare themselves with people achieving lesser than them in business or professions and feel satisfied. 
Resultantly, they develop an inner feeling of “hate” for the people more successful than them and always try to find faults with those “bigger achievers” and justify their own achievement as best one under the given circumstances. Such people develop an attitude of being someone “perfect” who does not need any improvement in any area. They don’t feel like listening to the critics, they don’t like criticism of their decisions, don’t wish to see critical view points on their acts or behaviours and also   don’t like people who question or judge their knowledge status. 
They like to hear good things about them. They like those people who praise their acts, behaviours or knowledge and they like the company of such people who spend time with them for nothing specific, listen to whatever they speak or share and provide them a sense of superiority that suits to their mindset. Such people wish to create and feel a “successful” world around. 
In brief, such people restrain themselves from the learning process, both through new stimuli and from feedback. It is a common symptom, in majority of the so-called successful people of today who believe in attaining success at any cost and by any means. This is bitter but true for most people especially the authoritative, successful and key individuals as professionals - whether working for some organization or running their own businesses. 
In technical terms, it is the state of unique perceptual selection where people screen out communication /stimuli /learning to suit their beliefs, ideology or status not to allow every stimulus to reach their mindset for a perceptual change process. In fact, they block their minds to new learning. In case of professionals from industries and businesses, this “learning blockage” is a growing symptom of current scenario where they wish to prove themselves better than others at every possible platform with their “limited knowledge” acquired in due course of time. 
For this objective, the most common way most professionals adopt is to prove others bad rather than proving themselves good. Such professionals/ business persons wish to be surrounded by their admirers, not critics. They spend their valuable time in criticizing the acts of others rather than doing a constructive and thoughtful act. Such admirers take advantage of his/her mindset and create a false, rosy picture of their interest to encourage for inappropriate decision making (mostly of their interests) by blocking the learning process. 
This incorrect decision making or action occurs in the absence of critical analysis of facts and figures due to the lack of updated learning of the changes happening around us that ultimately harms our own businesses in the long run, affecting next generations and growth prospects of the future. That is why we observe a downfall in next generation businesses in some cases and people wonder for the decline. 
The world is full of such examples where “lack of learning” has caused disasters in organizational functioning, wrong decision making, exposed individual and professional limitations and lagging behind the competitors. Besides the specific individual cases like Malya’s in India, we have industrial examples too like Nokia, Blackberry etc. Touch screen in mobile phones is a patent of Nokia but they could not notice the changing customer demand due to the lack of learning from market changes despite having top market position, top professionals to work with and top goodwill to be supported by customers. The company finally suffered the loss of top position to competitors which used Nokia patent to come up with touch screen phones successfully, well ahead of Nokia. It is actually the failure of Nokia executives who were supposed to learn the technological/market changes occurring rapidly and respond quickly to the changes happening in the markets, effectively. But it was too late to respond and the story was reversed in the shortest of time, in a highly competitive market. 
Why did it happen to Nokia or Blackberry when they had a top market share and top professionals with them? It is basically due to blocking the learning process at some time of your professional careers, once you become successful or achieve some position of recognition. This is very common in the professional world. This happens when learning gets erased from our lives and we get confined to our “limited knowledge” as professionals which might have been good enough at some point of time but is not good enough always. Professionals now need to be with refreshed, updated knowledge and must be on their toes to update with the changing economical, technological, environmental or socio-cultural elements affecting professionalism. Now stagnant knowledge is no more acceptable in any profession. This calls for the ever learning attitude and it is the time when you can’t opt for the “non-learning attitude” anymore for sustainable recognition in the professional world.
In short, learning leads to gaining knowledge which in turn leads to an overall change of the permanent nature in the mindset, personality, attitude and behaviors in individuals. When people are in professional fields, it matters even a great deal. As a professional, one needs to update one's knowledge continuously, collect the latest info, analyze current scenario through latest models and frame/reframe strategies /decisions through updates. This all requires a learning mindset and attitude for the professionals. Without this mindset and attitude, one cannot survive for long as a professional or businessman or marketer. So, there is no option left but to develop this approach during the transformation process itself i.e. transformation into a professional from a student. 
In our student days we need to work on developing the right learning attitude and mindset. This must continue in the professional life, too. The best way to do this is to improve ourselves continually. Instead of hiding weaknesses, we need to work on them to eradicate them. We should have a critical analysis of our own acts, responsibilities, behaviours, knowledge intakes, attitude and personality related traits continuously. We should give ourselves a space for self-analysis, give at least few minutes every day to introspect ourselves for improvements. Similarly, we should take positives from all and learn from everything, everybody and every situation we come across. We should not feel shy or hesitation for interactions and participation. We should not shy away from taking responsibilities and being accountable. Likewise, we should not get afraid of failures. Rather, we should take them as lessons learned, commit unintentional mistakes but try new things, new roles, and new responsibilities. We should take the lead, and respect and recognize others. We should create value for ourselves as professionals and get the due credibility.
Transformation is always tough whether it is the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly or a student into a professional. One needs to undergo a difficult “change” process where one needs to work on self with determination by growing the seed of learning for life. One should develop the learning habit and skill to understand things better. This is the only thing which will keep us stay in the fray. Otherwise, we will become outdated in a blink of an eye or will be treated as a spent weapon for new challenges. 
New challenges are bound to come and we as professionals are bound to respond effectively with our updated skills and knowledge. Don't let yourself become outdated and this is not possible without developing an attitude of lifelong learning. Learning comes through experience whether it is of classroom or industrial fields. Learning is a very individual process and must be done by the individuals themselves. Nobody, not even the instructor, can do this for you. Research has concluded that no two people react to an experience the same way. Each learns different things depending on how they perceive the situation with their own attitude and mindset towards it. The learner's goal or purpose is of chief importance in the act of learning. If you have the vision to become a good professional, you will formulate the mission accordingly and develop a learning attitude. With this attitude, you can try for other elements of professionalism like gaining knowledge, personality development, identifying competencies, competitiveness and not the least, acquiring behavioural attributes to support that. Learning is an active process. Never assume anything just because it is obvious to you. You need to work hard, work on you even harder and work on your mindset the hardest.
Learning comes from the ‘attitude to learn’ and this attitude to learn is not a natural instinct in most individuals' cases. We generally don’t understand, realize or give importance to this vital aspect of life till we face the music of reality and feel its role in our lives and careers. The prime time of acquiring or developing this attitude is our student life but very few of us understand it right on time. It is often felt late in life and by the time it becomes difficult to re-engineer it. One needs to work on one's attitude development and make it possible in “education time” of school or colleges through introspection, change in mindset , working on key personality traits , gaining knowledge and become open for adaptation of change.
These key professional requisites are responsible for developing a lifelong learning attitude. This is why the role of educational institutions becomes even more vital in shaping up the professionals for future responsibilities of business/ industries. This is why the teaching–learning pedagogy becomes so important and this is why the imparting of key professional requisites becomes too significant in transformation process in schools and colleges. A lifelong learning attitude is the only way to develop and acquire the requisites of a true professional in you as professionals are left with no choice but to develop such requisites under the changing professional world where those left behind are forgotten and the updated ones carry through.
Dr Jha is Professor-Marketing & Director -CRE, at Kathmandu College of Management. He can be contacted at [email protected] , 9810284079.

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