Do Grown-Ups Learn?

!afterclass! Emotion
Janss Mall, Interactive Fountain
Thousand Oaks, CA ((Lehrer, Nancy. “Children at Play.” Flickr. 11 May 2008. Web. 23 Jan 2010. <>.))

Unable to find a table at Starbucks Thursday morning, I took a chair offered by a woman who looked like she was finishing up her pastry and would soon be leaving her table — to me. She was a regular and knew why I was there.

We started talking and she told me about the numerous and wildly varied jobs she had held since graduating from UNC with a degree in “Peace, War, & Defense.” I finally asked her, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” I hope I asked it in the playful way that I’d intended — because she seemed a bit taken-aback by the question.

The thing is, it seems that when posing that mostly fun-poking question to adults, what you are really asking is, “What is the last thing you want to learn to do?”

Thinking about it this morning and visualizing my archetypal learning-resistant educator, what I see is a grown-up, someone who is doing the last thing they want to learn to do. Of course we’re all always learning and we all plan to develop new interests, skills, hobbies, etc, as we go along. No one ever intends to stop learning, and being “grown-up” is certainly not an exception.

I just wonder, though, if resisting change and the learning required to adapt to change is a characteristic of feeling “Grown-Up?”

We don’t stop playing games because we’re getting older – We get old because we stop playing games. (author unknown)

I saw that quote on a slide at a conference I attended last year, and it rings true to me. But it doesn’t say to me that we should resist growing up.  It’s says that we should never stop playing and being playful.

I wonder, if I should add an “eleven” to my 10 Ways to Promote Learning Lifestyle in Your School, “Find ways to be playful at your school — and perhaps feel less grown-up.”

23 thoughts on “Do Grown-Ups Learn?”

  1. I think that quote came from a Twilight Zone episode where the people from the “old folks home” became young again by playing kick the can. I have always believed that by working with teenagers and learning from them, I will not only stay young, but more importantly I will not be stuck with the ideas of my generation as to how the world works, but will continue to learn new things and ideas.

  2. Learning can (and should) be fun! Experimenting with technology was such an exciting way (and you too I’m sure) for me to learn…if only we could get past the limitations in many educator’s thinking that computers are only for word processing and looking stuff up online! Look what amazing teaching and learning potential computers have in 2010 – the software and hardware has improved so much, yet we still tend to use them for basic perfunctory tasks.

    I love the “we don’t stop playing games because we’re getting older – we get old because we stop playing games” quote and will be sharing this with my colleagues!

    Thank you David!

      1. For me not all the learning I do is fun, it maybe hard work, but I do it because I want the end result. I am trying to learn ActionScript 3.0 so I can 1) teach it to my students and 2) so I can use it to make ed aps for my students. It is not what I would do for fun, but I do it because I want to learn.

        I think we are told that life should be fun and are students should have fun while learning, that is not true. Learning may require hard work that is not fun. How many football players in high school think practice is fun? Think all the drills are fun? Not many, but they want to play in the game so the do the work. Why is school different?

  3. One of the points made in the “Did You know” videos is that today’s college graduates will have 10 – 14 jobs by the time they are 38. Perhaps we’ll stop asking, “What do you do?” and instead ask “What have you done?” and “what will you be doing?”

    1. What about those who don’t graduate from high school and don’t have the opportunity to have 10-14 jobs because they can’t get another job? I would love to be optimistic here, but the fact remains that kids drop out of school on a daily basis. For dropouts, their questions would be: “What CAN you do?”, “What do you want to do?”, and “What will you do to get there?”

      1. I believe that this is a HUGE problem, Philisa, one that we are not paying nearly enough attention to. …Or, is it that we are trying to solve the problem from within an already broken system. Education, as we know it, can’t fix this. We’re going to have to be a lot more imaginative….

        As for the jobs, I suspect that under-educated people will likely have more than the 14 jobs referred to above (a statistic that is way overused and has be debunked in my opinion). They will constantly be in search of jobs, because what they are capable of doing will constantly be outsourced or co-oped by robotics…

  4. Indeed, David! Having a little fun in purposeless play is part of learning that many young people have not experienced. Just this week, I had a set of connector blocks out for a Math manipulative session, and was amazed at how the students, first, only used them for the manipulatives(which was good), but at break time, rushed to the computer stations to play a game online. One student, however, picked up the blocks and made a “Rubik’s Cube” style puzzle out of it, and handed it around. This has sparked some new play out of the students, as they try to come up with clever creations as well. I just hope I can rein in the play when work time comes again.

  5. As a self-proclaimed “life-long learner”, I often wonder if I have become an adult with ADD. There are so many things that I want to learn I find myself getting distracted by other things that I want to learn.

    As an educator, I try hard to model learning for my students and we often have conversations about what I’m learning and I ask them what they learn outside of school. It leads to fascinating discussions and they are more eager to head out the door and look to learn more.

  6. I know what you mean. You don’t want to grow old ‘disgracefully’ (as it were) but nor do you want to lose your capacity for fun. My grandmother’s 86, fairly immobile and diabetic. But does she still eat sweets, laugh every day and go on holidays to the other side of the earth every year? Yep, of course she does! 😀

    (BTW the ReCAPTCHA I have to fill in for this comment is ‘the beverage’. Seems appropriate…)

  7. In grad school we recently created a wiki and the realization hit me, this is fun. How can I bring this type of learning to my high school class? With the advances in technology we are more capable than ever to make learning “fun” for students while preparing them for future careers, the vast majority involving some type of technology. Learning can be fun!

  8. David, here I am in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan reading this post (that you wrote in North Carolina), trying to be an adult who is engaged in the discourse of our field. The picture you used, however, is from a mall I frequented as a child while growing up in Southern California (my parents still live about twenty minutes away from that site). Even while trying to do something grownup, I’m pulled back to my childhood.

  9. Very nice post!
    I do like variation myself, it doesn’t mean I have to be hectic and scattered though.

    Honestly, as I get older I want to break free more.
    In some respects I would love to travel the world just to learn and try new things!

    Maybe when I’m 30 or 40 I can do some of that. 😉

  10. Fantasic ideas! As a high school teacher, we are always talking about making students life-long learners. He’s a simple way we can practice what we preach. I’m going to change my old bulletin board tomorrow. I’m sure it will spark some conversations with my students that I wouldn’t ordinarily have. Keep those ideas coming.

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