Wisdom suggests we live and learn. Experience and reflection help us move from being good to better. Why then does education ask us to learn then live?

Institutional education is broken. We send four-year-olds to school and keep them in schooling until they are 19, then we spew them out into life to get on with it. We might offer occasional courses or a bit of in-service training throughout a lifetime of work, but generally, we are asked to get on with it.

The phrase was never meant to be "you learn, and then you live". The famous saying is "You live" and then "you learn". Something seems to have gone wrong.

Institutional learning

To proceed with organised learning, people work through levels of qualifications. Everyone is expected to achieve level 2, or GCSEs. In 2019, nearly 89% of 19 years olds achieved a level 3 qualification thanks to mandatory FE education. In the same year, almost 17,000 people completed a bachelor's degree, a level 6. As you can see, individuals drop out early from organised learning and head into the workplace.

Institutional education is a system based on the accruing of qualifications of ever-increasing sophistication. As you move through the levels, you are expected to show greater levels of independent thought and innovation. By the time you reach level 8, you are expected to offer original concepts. While there are vocational qualifications, by the time you reach these higher levels, intellectualism is emphasised.

Workplace learning depends on the company's values, ethos, and efficacy and the adequacy of the HR department. By virtue of cost-benefit analysis, this in-service training is focused mainly on the organisation's key performance indicators. Arguably, it is not intended to develop the individual.

Of course, lifelong learners take course after course after course. They are motivated to develop themselves and understand the world in which they live. But this is despite institutional education, not because of it.

Attitudes and behaviours

Lifelong learning is an attitude and set of behaviours, not an institutional system of courses and outcomes. It is a way of living that needs to be encouraged and nurtured.

Educationalists need to start by inspiring dreams. Everyone should have a vision of where they want to be; it gives people the intrinsic motivation required to commit to ongoing development. Learning "just because" is never going to be enough for most people. If we believe that learning is a journey, we need to give an idea of a destination. As the learners travel, the destination may be ever-shifting, but there are markers they can aim for.

When the learner knows where they are heading, they need to assess where they are now. The gap between the two is the agenda for learning that needs to be undertaken. Helping the learner self-assess and offer the opportunity to seek the opinion of others in a controlled process will help them define their current context. Then, with an agenda of learning to be achieved, the individual can select the path to take to offer them the best chance of transformation.

To inspire and motivate

Helping others learn is more facilitation than management. You offer them the opportunity to find the path they need to follow to get to where they are going.

You then need to inspire them into action. You can do this by being the learner's role model, or you can offer them engaging tales of others who have achieved success.

But intellectualising the learning is never going to be enough; it needs to be applied. Therefore, the role of the facilitator is to use questioning to help the learner shape an experiment they can undertake in context. They will go away and live and then learn from that living.

If, when experimenting with ideas, it doesn't work out as expected, then reflection and course correction are as powerful as confirming the theory. Errors or failures becomes as potent as successes.

To continue to motivate, the facilitator needs to prompt the learner into small actions every day. By encouraging the learner to develop a habit of action and reflection, lifelong learning becomes a mindset. People will need to learn to learn effectively.

Let's prize wisdom over intellect

Organised education is about sifting and sorting learners into a hierarchy. It has nothing to do with helping the individual find their potential. Intellect is a prized possession, and the more learners possess, the longer they will stay in the sieve – and they will eventually fall out on top. If learners are disadvantaged by class, gender, race, and other differentiators, even intellect won't keep them in the sieve. They will be dumped out of organised education pretty smartish.

For a learner to find their place in life, to be their greatest self, they need to combine intellect, emotions and intuition and commit to daily acts of development. It takes wisdom to continue learning through life, not qualifications.