Lifelong learning – the role of learning in our lives

When have I finished learning? Has a graduating student finished learning when they graduate from high school? Have we completed our learning of the Heidelberg Catechism when we do our Profession of Faith? Or is it after we’ve graduated from college or university that we are finally finished learning? At this time of year, many are busy with intensive learning as they study hard and write exams, or are examined by Consistory, but then this period of learning ends when they graduate or do their Profession of Faith. However, learning itself never ends. Learning is a lifelong task that involves not only formal learning, but also informal learning that takes place throughout one’s lifetime. In fact, learning is a crucial component to the spread of the gospel!

Your learning started already when you were born. Your mum and dad were (still are!) your teachers and you learned from your experiences as you became hungry and craved milk, yearned for attention, played and shared your toys with others, “read” the pictures in your storybook and pronounced your first words.

In an effort to build our learning, our parents sent us to school to gain a wider and deeper knowledge of the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic. In fact, they did this to help equip us for our task in this world which is to glorify God in all that we do, whether at home, in a career, in church life, etc. Many of us have had the privilege to learn in a reformed school that has covenant education and a covenant environment with God’s Word and the reformed confessions as its foundation. Such a learning environment provides a rich perspective on God’s covenant promises for us and how we must fulfil our responsibilities in thankfulness through every day and action of our life.

Then beyond high school, we may go to college or university to obtain further learning into specific trades or disciplines to be equipped to pursue a career pathway and obtain employment. Even once in the workforce, we may attend short courses for professional development and training sessions to learn key concepts and be trained in particular skills.

Beyond the formal learning is the informal learning that we do throughout our life. Lifelong learning can be defined as “learning that is pursued throughout life: learning that is flexible, diverse and available at different times and in different places” (LLCQ 2017).

In 1996, the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century submitted a report entitled Learning: The treasure within to UNESCO. The “treasure within” refers to the fact that within each child lies a treasure that must, through learning, make a child to thrive throughout their life. Little did the authors understand the significance of that statement for as a covenant child, each child has a very rich identity as a child of God, and through the Lord’s grace and strength, in faith, can thrive as obedient and thankful children cheerfully learning more about the directions the Lord wants to take them through this life. This report identifies four pillars of learning (Delors 2013)

  1. Learning to know. Acquiring a body of knowledge that begins with completing basic education, while at the same time nurturing a thirst for knowledge and desire to learn more.
  2. Learning to do. Knowledge must be put into practice and so we need to learn skills and gain experiences so that we can do things with knowledge and training.
  3. Learning to live together. Obviously we need to learn to live with others in communities and in this world, and so need to build relationships and communicate together.
  4. Learning to be. This is about developing the full creative potential of each individual in all its richness and complexity.

When we place these four pillars on a Scriptural foundation, they become much richer and more meaningful in the context of reformed education. God has given us a special book to learn, a body of knowledge known as the Bible, one that will take our entire life to learn, and even then we will not have finished learning. In fact we will learn even beyond this life as God will show us the exceeding riches of His grace in the ages to come (Eph 2:7). This body of knowledge becomes the foundation and the glasses in which we learn and gain additional knowledge about the world and the disciplines that God has created: science, literature, history, geography, mathematics, information technology, etc.

In a reformed context, learning to do is not just about getting skills to get a good job, but more importantly, being able to use our knowledge of God and His world to put into practise our living for Him. It is not only about the skills of a trade, such as building a house, but also the diligence and attitude with which we do our work.

Learning to live together in the context of families, church communion of saints, local communities and workplaces has a far richer meaning as reformed believers. God places and uses people around us and in our lives so that we can learn more and more to live with and for each other. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4)

Finally, learning to be must be seen in the context of how God has created us and made us to be. Being created in the image of God, we have been given very specific and individual gifts and abilities, and we need to utilise them to God’s glory to the best of our ability. The only way we can understand the “full creative potential of each individual” is when we realise how God works in and through us and how we must be diligent and faithful to grow and use our God-given talents for His glory and for the benefit of those around us. The purpose is not in and of ourselves.

In fact, we realise that learning itself is a task and responsibility with a goal, namely that you “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19). Therein lies the purpose and motivation of learning.

Already 500 years ago, the value of learning was highlighted by the reformers. Martin Luther put a strong focus on learning to be able to know God. It was not only learning the Bible itself – yes that also – but Luther was convinced that learning about languages, history, etc would provide a good context for the study of Scripture (Faber 1998)). Not only ministers and teachers, but ALL believers needed such learning to better know God and His work in this world.

In Luther’s time, there was a high rate of illiteracy which, of course, did not help the common folk when the Bible began to be printed in the language of the day. Recognising the need to “learn more about God and His works in the created world and history”, Luther warned and encouraged parents not to underestimate the function of learning in the service of the Word and sacraments (Faber 1998). Education is crucial to advancing the gospel. Luther wrote a letter “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools”. Education would benefit the country and the church. Parents and civic leaders both have responsibilities here.

We can be very thankful for the various opportunities and means for learning that we have had and continue to have. What a blessing to have Christian parents, covenant schools, reformed churches and the means to be able to gain qualifications and skills. We can also be thankful for the opportunity to use our gifts and abilities in our homes, workplaces and (church and local) communities, with God’s strength and blessings. We have built it into our routines and lives. Bible reading and devotions at meal times, personal Bible reading and communal Bible study clubs, reading, learning from others, asking questions, generating curiosity, sharing information and tips, etc.

How grateful we can be that as God’s children we see both the responsibilities and joys of learning, to know Him and reflect Him in all we do. Learning indeed extends much beyond school, pre-confession class and higher education, to all of life, for as long as we live on this earth and even beyond! Knowing the Great Teacher who created all things, generates all learning, and enables us to “learn to learn” with the great goal to see the fullness of God, can only motivate and excite us to learn more. And oh what learning we have yet to do! So love your lifelong learning, and grow in it!

References

Delors, Jacques. 2013. The treasure within: Learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. What is the value of that treasure 15 years after its publication? Springer Science+Business Media, Dordrecht, Published online: 20 March 2013 https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs11159-013-9350-8.pdf 

Faber, Riemer. 1998. Martin Luther on Reformed Education. Clarion Vol 47, No 16, online on SpindleWorks: http://www.spindleworks.com/library/rfaber/luther_edu.htm.

LLCQ. 2017. What is Lifelong Learning? Lifelong Learning Council Queensland, http://www.llcq.org.au/01_cms/details.asp?ID=12