Beyond the Classroom: Too Cool for School? Or Engaged in Life Long Learning?

I just sent my first born to college and my twins are in their last year of middle school. It’s that time of year where dinner conversations are focused around questions like:

  • How was school?
  • What did you do?
  • What did you learn?

From my middle schoolers, I receive wonderfully thoughtful answers like:

  • Boring!
  • Nothing!
  • What did you say?

(That’s if I am lucky enough to get an actual verbal response.)

But the college freshman says, “Great! Fun! I get to do what I want, when I want!”

When does school become cool? When it’s about more than the classroom.

As we all know, learning in college is bigger than the classroom and the textbook. Only a year ago, this college freshman was a high school senior and most of his responses fell into the “what did you say” category.

So after thinking about this exchange, dare I say… learning is cool in college?

I think the trick is that you just can’t call it learning. That word is never cool.

Or is it?

When learning becomes essential, re-energizing and renewing.

Last year I took a couple of courses, some online and some in a classroom. The experience reminded me how much I love the process of learning and how cool it really is. At least to me.

As I reflected on the recent dinner conversations with my children, I began to ask myself why I find learning cool now. When I was a middle schooler, the last thing I thought I wanted to do was learn.

I came to a number of conclusions about makes school different now:

  • No judgement; just experience. I did not feel the pressure of grades. I was immersed in learning to learn.
  • It was not driven by requirements. It was driven by passion, purpose and curiosity.
  • It wasn’t “yet another thing I had to do.”  It was something I wanted to do.
  • I could not predict the outcome. It was not old and tired thinking. It was new and energizing ideas.
  • It was not being dictated as the answer. It was being discussed and explored as an idea. It was challenging debate, not rooted in “that’s the way it is around here” arguments.
  • It was not political; it was collaborative. I didn’t have to think about what another person really meant or what they thought of me. I just had to think about my opinion on a subject, have the courage to express it and the willingness to listen and learn from others. No one was trying to climb a career ladder, or even be right. These were all open-minded individuals with a shared desire to learn.

The whole process of adult learning for me was renewal. I think I was burning out. I was not as happy as I normally am at work. I was struggling. I needed to change my perspective and feel inspired. This experience energized me. It taught me the importance of putting passion back in my day. It made the days, weeks and months that followed fun again! It was cool.

What can leaders do to inspire learning?

As a leader, what I realized about my reflections is that they are not about school, they are about life. Life and work can get boring. It can feel just like a routine, rooted in “have to” not “want to,” rooted in old not new, or rooted in politics not purpose. Part of that is on the student/employee, but a big part of it is on the teacher/leader.  We really need to think about how we set our culture and frame the work.

Work is learning – the best kind of learning: experiential. What can leaders do to make learning cool for their team members?