How to turn your students into lifelong learners

The discussion about the future of work and skills is a hot topic in the current economic climate. With a trend towards remote work, rapid changes in technology, and the automation of repetitive jobs, the idea that current students will leave school and enter a...

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The discussion about the future of work and skills is a hot topic in the current economic climate. With a trend towards remote work, rapid changes in technology, and the automation of repetitive jobs, the idea that current students will leave school and enter a job for life has become a thing of the past.

Indeed, a student entering school today is likely to have as many as 15 different jobs in their lifetime. Therefore, it’s vital that we prepare them for this future by teaching them to continue learning throughout their lives.

So, how can teachers support students in becoming lifelong learners?

Develop innovation skills

New technology and business models have brought with them a need for innovative thinkers and employees with a growth mindset. Encouraging the development of innovation skills in the classroom should be on every teacher’s agenda as a way to help equip students with the 21st century skills they’ll need to succeed in the future.

One way of incorporating these skills into the classroom is by implementing project-based learning.

More and more students are concerning themselves with how to make a positive impact on society. Channel this energy and get your students to work on a project that deals with a current societal problem. This way, you’ll be encouraging students to think innovatively about how they can solve this issue. Furthermore, they’ll learn how to collaborate effectively with peers, gather and present ideas and pick up some basic design skills.

Here’s one idea for creating a class based on a project:

  1. As a whole class, ask your students to think of some important societal problems in their local area. Write their ideas on the board as they call them out. Use your judgement to filter out sensitive or inappropriate ideas.
  2. Put students in groups of three or four and ask them to them choose an issue on the board.
  3. In their groups, task them to go online and research the issue they have chosen, thinking about who it affects, why it affects them, how bad the problem is, etc.
  4. Next they should brainstorm as many solutions as they can in 15 minutes.
  5. Then they should discuss their ideas and decide which one or which combination of ideas is the best.
  6. In the next class, they should then create a poster, presentation, web page or article outlining how they will solve their issue. You could then ask each group to present their solution to the class in a follow-up lesson.

Encourage critical thinking

Encouraging students to think critically can influence them to become lifelong learners. Exposing students to an array of ideas and information, and asking them to consider their opinion, will inspire their interest and curiosity and give their inner critic food for thought for a lifetime.

One idea – topical in the media right now – is the concept of fake news. Increasingly people are turning to social media as a source of news. Yet, the amount of fake news and propaganda being posted on social media networks is also increasing. It is important that you encourage your students to think critically about what they find on the internet.

Bring in some newspaper articles, either showing news stories or opinion writer columns. Ask your students to question the source of the news, discuss whether any accompanying images are real or have been edited and invite them to research the topic.

Ask if your students think the news is real, fake or edited in some way to make the reader feel something and then encourage them to search for alternative points of view. This exercise can work with younger learners too – you could simply ask them to decide whether a story is opinion-based or fact-based.

Encourage independent learning

The traditional classroom is being turned upside down, with many teachers now placing more emphasis on students’ independent learning. Building your students’ autonomy will provide them with the tools and confidence needed for lifelong learning.

An effective way of doing this is by reducing ‘teacher talk’. It is common for teachers to stand at the front of the class and give feedback and reflection on the day’s learning. Yet this can sometimes encourage students to sit back and not engage with the class.

Try reducing the amount of time you spend doing this. Instead, encourage your students to reflective on their own learning. They can do this by keeping a ‘learner’s diary’, which they fill in at home and you review regularly. Not only will this give you an insight into their learning habits, and perceived strengths and weaknesses, but it will also help them to reflect on their day, their learning process, and what they think they need to do to make progress.

Older students can write freely, but you could encourage younger students to answer a series of regular questions. For example:

  • What was the topic of today’s lesson?
  • What did I find challenging about it?
  • What did I find easy?
  • What was the most interesting thing I learned?

Finally, when teaching online, a great way to engage students independently is by preparing quizzes. Quizzing students at home helps increase learner engagement and influences your students to think independently.

Set SMART goals

To have value, learning must be a meaningful process with clear objectives. Setting objectives, or goals, in the classroom is a great way to motivate and engage your students in the learning process.

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. They help both you and your student keep learning on track. The following five questions can help you make sure the goals you agree are SMART:

  1. Specific: what do I need to do?
  2. Measurable: how will I know I have been successful?
  3. Achievable: can I do it on my own or with a little help?
  4. Relevant: will it help me be better at (subject)?
  5. Time-bound: when do I need to complete it?

Asking your students to set their own learning goals will help to motivate them and focus on their learning.

One way of getting students to follow these goals is by using a variety of visual tools. Goals could be presented to the class as a chart or graph showing student progress and clear targets. And individual students could track their goals with a worksheet or notebook.

By visualising their targets, students will be more likely to engage with them and continue this practice long after finishing education.

Use technology

Lifelong learning is about gaining and developing abilities, interests, knowledge and qualifications from school to retirement. From the moment your students enter the workforce, they will constantly be learning to keep up to date with the latest technological developments.

One way to bring technology into the classroom is through the use of apps. There are plenty of apps directed at student learning. For example, these include iMovie for students to get creative making their own videos, Quizlet for creating flashcards and games, Duolingo for language learning and Edmodo for teachers to offer student feedback.

Above all, doing this will help provide students with a range of technological skills, vital for developing their 21st century skill set.

Further reading

Learn more about the importance of lifelong learning through this future of skills research and this article on the essential 21st century skills for learners.

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