One of the things that people tend to learn, at least implicitly, very early, is just about any activity can provide some sort of learning. If education is expensive business, learning itself is something that is a universal human tendency at least in some fashion. No matter what people one is dealing with, learning is something that one can find without much trouble at all. Recently I have read books that have sought to provide insights based on shopping. A substantial portion of my life was spent learning in school, from kindergarten to two master’s degrees programs. And anyone who even remotely knows me is aware of my passion for learning and self-improvement when it comes to reading and travel and other forms of gaining insight and learning. And even those people who might think themselves as hostile to learning often have far more fondness for learning than they realize, because of the way that learning tends to come automatically based on what we spend our time doing.
There are many avenues to learning. We can learn many things through personal experience, although this is one of the more painful ways of learning things when things go wrong. We can learn from observing others, which is often effective at reducing the pain for insight. Similarly, we can learn through reading or hearing things from others, although this sort of learning tends to imply that we are learning things based on authority as opposed to more direct forms of learning such as experience or personal observation. Any way that we learn can provide us with insight, and any way that we learn can, alas, teach us the wrong sorts of lessons. Some things that are useful for some circumstances may prove to be harmful in other circumstances. In that sense, learning is often highly context-dependent, and we tend to draw wide conclusions from very narrow levels of understanding and very limited and partial personal experience and observation. Similarly, we often fail to learn what may appear to others and in retrospect to be obvious lessons from what we see and experience, to say nothing of what we read and what we hear from others.
At times, learning becomes an explicit subject of writing and discourse. Those who study education as a major, for example, tend to learn a great deal explicitly about how it is that people are supposed to learn. It is one of the more grim ironies of our world that education majors are typically viewed as being the least accomplished of students in the university setting, despite the fact that teaching others is their object of study. Interestingly enough, those who learn the most implicitly, namely those without formal education at all, are similarly viewed as being not particularly learned. This suggests that some mixture of formal and informal learning is best, but that thinking one knows a great deal about learning because of what one has learned by authority does not always mean that one in fact knows what one thinks one knows. Being both humble and observant, eager to learn via a variety of means but also aware of the limitations of ourselves as students and of others as teachers is a healthy way to be able to avoid thinking that we are more knowledgeable than we in fact are.
After all, one of the most important things to learn is that no matter how good we are at learning things and remembering things that there is always much more to learn. This is true for a variety of reasons, including the fact that what we are taught or that which we read or hear is not always true, what we observe is not always what appears to be the case, and that which we learn from experience may only be true or useful in a very narrow context. And just like a lack of humility can blind us to the state of our ignorance, being too browbeaten and modest may prevent us from seeing the true state of our knowledge and insight. There are many ways to go wrong, and it is hard for us to overcome the biases of those who would wish to teach us as well as our own perspective. And so while we are always learning, it is hard to come to firm and reliable knowledge that is trustworthy. But still we try anyway.