Essential Life Skill #7: Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

What's the Big Idea? 

The words “learning” and “education” are unsexy in print – probably because for most people they unconsciously conjure up feelings of Dickensian dread and boredom. This is because most of the classrooms we have had to endure are the exact opposite of what cognitive science tells us our brains have evolved to love – hands-on, experiential learning in which we are active, curious participants.

Reactionaries will tell you that this is a load of hippie nonsense and that in their day nobody whined about learning a few multiplication tables, and that this touchy feely twaddle is why America has fallen behind the rest of the world on objective measures of concrete skills. They are wrong. Of course there are skills which must be mastered and which may not always be delightful to practice, but rare is the academic subject that, with a little extra effort and creativity on the part of the teacher, cannot be taught in a way that keeps the human brain hungry to learn.

As a result of the widespread, uninspired, “take your medicine, kid” approach to education, we forget an important fact: that everything we do – from personal relationships to a day at the office – if we’re awake, that is, and alive, and not just going through the motions, is an act of learning.

Self-directed, engaged learning is one of seven essential life skills author and educator Ellen Galinsky teaches in her workshop for Big Think Mentor. Parents, teachers, and workplace leaders take note: while individuals play an enormous role in guiding their own learning, they take many cues from their parents and mentors. By observing them closely and designing challenges that will engage their natural curiosity while pushing them to seek novel solutions, you have tremendous power to encourage those who look up to you realize their full potential as lifelong, active learners.

Video: Essential Life Skill #7: Self-Directed, Engaged Learning, with Ellen Galinsky (free preview: full video available with subscription to Big Think Mentor


In a fast-changing world, only our higher-order thinking skills can keep us aware, engaged, and growing.  In The Seven Essential Life Skills, her workshop for Big Think Mentor, Mind in the Making author Ellen Galinsky teaches lessons learned over decades of psychological research into how humans learn throughout the lifespan.  The seven essential skills she teaches here, and demonstrates with stunning video footage of classic psychological experiments, are invaluable tools for adapting to, learning from, and thriving within a world in rapid flux.

The seven essential life skills you’ll hone in this workshop are:

  • Focus and Self-Control

  • Perspective Taking

  • Communicating

  • Making Connections

  • Critical Thinking

  • Taking on Challenges

  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning


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