Lifelong learning

From cradle to grave

Learning from cradle to grave

There’s been a state of chaos à chez nous for the past few weeks. Chaos isn’t usually a state I embrace readily; my mind demands external order, quiet and peace. But this mess has been for the sake of a worthy cause. Believing passionately as I do that lifelong learning is not only a right for everyone, but an obligation, it seems that a dining room in a constant mess in an open plan house is a small price to pay for John’s newest learning venture.

Lifelong learning has been defined as the ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’[i] pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons or to develop skills as a volunteer. As well as acquiring knowledge and practical skills, a person engaged in lifelong learning also gains resilience and enhances his or her social inclusion, active citizenship, personal development, creativity and self-sustainability.

Adults of all ages who are actively engaged in learning and experimenting can become as engrossed as children at play. They  experience the same enjoyment and sense of achievement when they uncover fresh concepts or demonstrate new skills. Involving oneself in learning is more important than what one learns.

After we married seven years ago, my husband found that the elderly writer with whom he now shared his life was determined to spend time in solitude, tucked out of sight and writing. In defence, he decided he would to learn to paint.

Using books from the library, he learnt as much as he could about acrylics before he committed himself to art. He bought some inexpensive paints, brushes and a couple of canvases and began to play. His books and art supplies were boosted with gifts from family and friends; soon he was painting steadily. Before long, he produced some pleasing artwork that he has had framed and given as gifts. Some of it hangs on our own walls.

         John at his easel

John at his easel

We agreed we each needed our own space. When we moved to our new house,  we decided he would use the upstairs area, which also accommodates the guest room, as his studio. He set up his desk in one corner with his laptop, printer, office supplies, bookshelves and files. We had a sink with running water installed in a corner of the studio, and he put his easel and paints in the middle of the room. I was very happy; my tidy, sunny study with a door that shuts is downstairs. And anyway, I am not too fussed about climbing stairs these days.

In the past few years, John has researched and set up a ‘no-dig’ vegetable garden in the tiny space at the back of the house and now we have an almost constant supply of herbs,  greens, chillies and capsicum. He also volunteered to read at Mass, and has become arguably the best reader on the roster in St Dominic’s Parish.

Six weeks ago, he volunteered to help a relative with some research. When the task was explained, he discovered that he needed more skills. Researching was the easy part, but using the computer in new ways was more difficult.

Not wanting to admit defeat and back down, he set about what was to become a major learning task. I love my husband’s determination that allows him, at 78 years of age. to pursue difficult new learning and practise freshly acquired skills.

He’s had a computer for years, and has used it for receiving and sending emails; banking; booking holidays; searching the internet for information and performing daily ‘brain training’ exercises via an online site. He also reads on an android tablet, and often uses that to check things as well. But he’s never worked in a computer environment and computers have not been topics of general conversation in the circles in which he mixed.

He brought the laptop downstairs.

‘So you don’t have to run up and down the stairs, while you teach me how to do it,’ he explained.

‘Thanks. That’s thoughtful,’ I said as he reorganised the dining room and commandeered the table.

Man at work in dining room

Man at work in dining room

There were a couple of obstacles to his new venture:  he is a one-finger typist (if that’s the word), and no one had ever shown him any of the amazing, simple tasks a computer can perform. In addition, his ancient laptop only had a very basic word-processing program. He’d never needed anything else.

It took us an hour to buy a new laptop, and a little longer to set it up.

At my brother Peter’s suggestion, our father gave me my first computer in 1985, a MicroBee for the technically minded, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Primarily a writer, I’m competent and confident with word processing; I use the internet for research and can manage the social media applications that interest me. But I’m a novice in other areas. Any child over the age of seven could run rings around my general knowledge of computers, and some under seven could show me a thing or two. My older granddaughters (I have fourteen granddaughters and three grandsons) show me new tricks when I need to know.

With John next to me at the computer, though, I shone. I felt like a genius as we talked about cutting and pasting; margins; double and single spaced lines; switching from the internet to his Word page; saving work; and using a USB-drive. He took notes in an old brown notebook, and noticed if I deviated even slightly from something I’d said previously, or took a short cut.

Bit-by-bit, he accumulated the knowledge and skills he needs for the first major task. There will be more things he will want to know about, of course. But he’s well on the way to having an improved base from which to start his further learning  about the world of computers.

I look forward to seeing where his next venture will lead him.

If you would like to comment, or have a story about lifelong learning, your own or another’s I would love to read about it in the comments on my post.


[i]Department of Education and Science (2000). Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education. Dublin: Stationery Office