I spent half an hour the other day learning about aphids. Did you know that there are 500 species of aphid in the UK alone? And that colonies of aphids often consist of females only, who give birth to live young who develop from eggs which are simply clones of the mother? And that they will often only develop wings if they need them – to move to another plant, for example, because their plant has become overcrowded? It was a really, really busy day, so I did not just happen to fall into this learning because I was bored, or just surfing the net. Nor did I have a practical reason for this learning, although it was prompted by an ‘I wonder why …’ question that in turn had been prompted by watching greenfly on my chilli plants a few days before. No – I chose to stop what I was doing, and to spend half an hour learning about aphids because I was putting into practice something that I believe is important, namely learning … and learning for the sake of learning, because learning itself is of fundamental significance in our journey as human beings.
As is often the way, I was reminded of this importance of learning for the sake of it through a number of different conversations I had last week with people in my professional network. I spent a fair bit of last week in interviews for the new Head of Mentoring and Operations at Light Up Learning, one of the Edinburgh-based organisations I chair, and one of the questions my co-interviewer (and Founder of the charity) asked each of the shortlisted candidates was how they would use LUL time – the dedicated (paid) time which each employee is given each month to learn about something they love. (Our premise is that we want employees who can live the love of learning which they are helping young people develop.) I also had another conversation last week with the MD of Mark My Papers, whose Advisory Board I chair, and who was passionate, as ever, about the value of examinations for young people, in developing a rigour in their learning – a rigour which risks being undermined as schools, parents or the students themselves chase a grade rather than the knowledge which should really underpin any grade (a particular problem this year, again, with Centre Assessed Grades). I appreciate that there is a risk of surrounding oneself in an echo chamber of ideas – one of the pitfalls of today’s uber-connected world – but it really did seem to me that these were timely conversations, and that I needed to prioritise my own learning, in amongst the hubbub of my other work.
And what did I gain from learning about aphids … well, in addition to the insights I acquired, I noted an increase in my creativity for the rest of the day, as I found sparky solutions to knotty problems, inspired as I was by thinking about the world from a different perspective. I also felt my mind was sharper, and my wellbeing was enhanced by having become absorbed in something other than my regular activities. I also had an enormous sense of satisfaction from having added to my knowledge of the world. I also have a far greater respect for greenfly.
Learning for the sake of it … the question is not ‘why?’, but ‘why on earth not?’ What will you spend your LUL time on today …?