On being … a lifelong learner

By Ingrid Sapona

Have you noticed how “lifelong learning” has become a thing? Well, it has. There are lifelong learning institutes and even an entry for it in Wikipedia. (There it’s described as “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.”)  While that sounds lofty, I think that definition is too narrow. Missing from it is the role necessity often plays AND the fact that traditional ways of learning – like classes, lectures, seminars, and discussion groups – aren’t always available or particularly useful.

The first time I really focused on what it means to be a lifelong learner was this past spring when my 92-year-old mother had to learn how to maneuver herself to and from a wheelchair. In the assisted living world, such movement is called transferring. Before moving to the wheelchair she’d been transferring using a walker that was not particularly stable. 

Initially, thinking Mom needed to develop more upper body strength in order to continue using her walker, we got her physiotherapy. That helped her get stronger but her physiotherapist brought in an occupational therapist, who suggested it would be better if Mom used a wheelchair instead of the walker. The two convinced Mom to try it and they worked with her to show her how to safely transfer.

Though it sounds straightforward, there are a lot of little things to learn (and get used to) when using a wheelchair. The occupational therapist was terrific, making suggestions that we’d never have thought of on our own, like angling the wheelchair a certain way, so that the transfer is safer, if not easier. On top of that, the therapists showed us ways of re-configuring her apartment to make it easier for her to get around with the wheelchair.

In the first or second week she was transitioning to using the wheelchair, I remember one day when she was almost in tears because she was overwhelmed at all the things she was having to re-learn to do. But, she took all the suggestions in and figured out how to adapt them, given her personal physical limitations. Besides being impressed (and grateful) at her determination to learn these new skills at 92, I couldn’t help think that she was a living example of a lifelong learner. I also realized what a difference finding the right teachers (the therapists) made.

The other day another lifelong learning example cropped up – this time for me and my sisters. All of us have iPhones and over the past week I had conversations with both my sisters where we all complained about some of the iPhone functions that were changed after the most recent operating system updates Apple pushed through.

Though I’m an Apple fan, I always feel a bit of dread when there’s an operating system update, as I wonder what changes I’ll have to get used to. Though some updates are relatively inconsequential, others install new apps and other “features” I don’t care about. When that happens, I just move the new apps to a folder I created for “extras”.  But some updates make changes to apps I rely on, and this can be extremely frustrating. In some cases, not only are the apparent “improvements” not obvious, it’s irritating to have to figure out how to do things you used to know how to do. 

It used to be that when you bought something, you got a manual that explained how to use it. But these days, if there is a manual, first you have to find it on-line. And, when you do, it’s almost guaranteed to be out-of-date, given how often tech companies update their products. Yes, Apple provides an information blurb with each update, but have you ever tried to make sense of them? The blurbs are jargon filled and cryptic for those who aren’t computer scientists. Here’s the beginning of the blurb for the pending update (for iOS 13.2): The update “… introduces Deep Fusion, and advanced image processing system that uses the A13 Bionic Neural Engine …”. Get that? Well I don’t… Is it any wonder I no longer bother reading the description before tapping: Download and Install?

My tech guru friend Sandy has taught me it’s usually worth googling the issue because sometimes you’ll find information about it. I do that – but often all I can find is reiteration of the tech speak Apple used and I’m no further ahead. If it’s a feature that I really depend on, then as a last resort I ask Sandy for help. But what do folks that don’t have a Sandy of their own do?

Well, the other day, I happened upon a source for helpful Apple operating system tidbits that I hadn’t thought of before. It was a NY Times piece titled: “16 Useful Gems in Apple’s New iOS 13,” by David Pogue. I recognized the name immediately because I’ve seen pieces he’s done for CBS Sunday Morning and I always found them a great combination of entertaining and sensible.

The piece was everything I could hope for – and more. It explained some of the changes my sisters and I were confused about and he talked about some cool features I never would have thought to try. (Surely it wasn’t just me that never realized that every September Apple does a big update – one that rolls out all sorts of things! No wonder my sisters and I felt helpless – it was a September release!)
Besides all the truly useful information in that article, finding it sparked a curiosity that I don’t have when I view tech changes as something merely to be coped with. In other words, it reconnected me with the joy of learning about new ways of using the tools at my disposal. It also helped me realize that I should search out more curated content to learn certain things. (Thank you, New York Times.)

I realize these two stories seem pretty different, but for me, they represent what lifelong learning is all about. At its core, I think lifelong learning is a mindset that accepts that as you go through life, things change and you can either be defeated by them, or you can learn to change too. And, it requires a willingness to try things and to be open to sources of knowledge and information that you might not have been exposed to before.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


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