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10 Ways to Exercise Your Human Right to Learn

How deeply do you appreciate – and take advantage of – the freedom you have to learn and grow continually?

This post was originally written for Blog Action Day (which, alas, no longer exists) when the focus was on human rights. It struck me as a good prompt for stepping back and reflecting on learning as a right – on the human right to learn.

I’m not sure that the human will to learn can ever be fully extinguished, even in the worst of circumstances, but certainly it can be thwarted and damaged deeply. And certainly many of us are fortunate to live free from such worries, in conditions that provide an abundance of opportunities for learning and growth.

I know I, for one, do not always fully appreciate that fact. Maybe you feel the same.

I believe a significant part of preserving and strengthening rights is for those who have them to exercise them to the fullest extent possible.

So, in that spirit, here are 10 brief suggestions for exercising your human right to learn.

 1. Be conscious

Don’t just let life and learning happen to you. We learn a great deal unconsciously, but truly exercising your right to learn – and to live life with intention and purpose – begins with making learning a conscious and intentional part of your daily life and committing to being truly available for learning.

It also means recognizing that learning is not just – or even mostly – about courses, classes, and other forms of formal education. Opportunities to learn are around us constantly, from the moment we wake up each day (and even before). Don’t confuse education and learning.

2. Make time

We can’t help but learn continuously – it’s how we are wired – but real growth also requires focused time for learning and – as part of that process – reflection. So often, just getting it on your calendar is the better part of making it happen.

Take a look at whatever form of calendar you keep – even if it’s just jotting down a your daily list of todos – and put in some time for a specific activity that is consciously devoted to learning.

3. Be curious

It’s easy to slide into apathy. Don’t let that happen. Cultivate curiosity. Ask questions. For that matter, ask better questions.

One of the keys to being curious is simply to pay attention, to be mindful of what is going on around you and to choose to engage as interesting opportunities arise.

4. Take a risk or two

It’s very hard to learn effectively without sticking your neck out every now and again and experiencing a little stress. Make prudent risk-taking a regular part of your life.

This doesn’t mean you have to start jumping out of planes or take flying trapeze lessons (though more power to you if you want to give either a try!) Even simple things trying out a new recipe on friends or – if you are an introvert like I am – volunteering to serve on a local committee or board can do the trick.

5. Develop your learning habits

Don’t let the good habits you were taught (I hope) long ago slip away. Even simple habits like taking notes go a long way. Or take things further and leverage these power tips. Most of all, make learning itself a conscious habit. As the old saying goes, if you don’t use, you may lose it.

6. Act on your learning

Don’t let learning be just a theoretical exercise. Take a page from Benjamin Franklin and embrace the concept of “useful knowledge.” Put your learning to work.

Very often this amounts to no more than acting on the obvious – recognizing that we already know so many things and – again – choosing to actually put the knowledge we have to work.

7. Be an example

Don’t keep your devotion to learning a secret. Be an avatar – for the kids around you, for your family, for your peers and colleagues, for others in your community. Show your work. Learning is a right and a responsibility. Embrace it and show it off. As I have written elsewhere:

If we expect others to embrace the idea that continual learning is critical to thriving in today’s world – both for ourselves and for our organizations – then we must embody that idea.

8. Connect with others

Humans are social learners. We like to connect, share, and learn with others. There are countless opportunities for connecting with other learners – through trade and professional associations, on social networks, in online communities. Use them to connect and learn.

9. Take care of yourself

There really is no separation between mind and body. If you want to learn well, you need to eat well, sleep well, and exercise regularly.

These aren’t just the keys to learning, they are three of the pillars for a long healthy life. And the fourth pillar leads to my final point …

10. Teach others

We’ve all heard it – and research suggests it’s true: one of the best ways to learn something well is to teach it. And in teaching, you help others exercise their right to learn. The ‘ol “win-win.”

What would you add? How else can we embrace and express our human right to learn? Please comment and share your thoughts.


P.S. – I encourage you to read (or re-read) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and share the link to it with others. Here are a couple of parts of it that stood out for me in relation to the topic of learning:

19. the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

26. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups…

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