The Joy of Lifelong Learning

Kari L. Schmidt, MS, RN-BC, ACC is the CEO of Training for Impact® and has extensive experience in professional development and adult education.

 

That is what learning is.  You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.

-- Doris Lessing

 

This powerful quote has been an inspiration to me for many years.  Lifelong learning is a core value of mine, as I believe it is for all nursing professional development (NPD) specialists.  We are committed to facilitating lifelong learning for others—at many levels and in many roles in our organizations.  We continue to stay current with evidence-based practice, and promote practice-based evidence.  We scan the healthcare environment internally and externally for innovative practices.  Sometimes we discover new knowledge.  Sometimes we find validation for our current practices.

Our commitment to facilitating learning for others sometimes results in prioritizing the development of others over our own development.  Yet, we have the opportunity, and I would suggest obligation, to role model lifelong learning.  As stated in our NPD standards, “Lifelong learning is important to develop and maintain competence and grow personally and professionally,” (ANA & NNSDO, 2010).  Learning occurs formally and informally:  formally through academic courses and continuing education, and informally through self-directed learning activities such as reading, conversations with authors, networking with colleagues, and self-reflection. 

Acquiring the academic degrees stated in our Standards is critical.  Certification in our specialty is vital.  Continuing education evidenced by contact hours is essential.  Acquiring and maintaining the credentials for our NPD specialty is critical—this validates our expertise.  Yet I often hear about the receipt of contact hours as a task, too cumbersome for busy NPD specialists.  The contact hours are not the end goal.  The acquisition of knowledge as evidenced by the contact hours is the goal.

Formal learning occurs in other formats as well.  In recent years, I had the opportunity to complete an executive leadership course, Leadership in Action, through Carroll University.  This program consisted of multiple days of facilitated workshops over six weeks.  In addition to the workshops, several self-assessments, analysis of the assessments, and individualized coaching were part of this program.  The participants included leaders in healthcare, including two physician leaders, as well as non-healthcare leaders in the public and private sector.  What a phenomenal opportunity to learn from seasoned executives who facilitated the program, as well as other participants!  I gained new understandings of my leadership style, and new perspectives to enhance my leadership skills.  Another example of formal learning is a comprehensive and intensive certification in coaching I completed.  This process included classroom learning, experiential learning through being coached, and over 120 hours of supervised coaching of clients.  Am I proud of this accomplishment—absolutely.  However, it is the learning from the process that was the greatest accomplishment.  Those learnings guide my personal self-reflection that is part of my daily life.  In both these examples of formal learning, it was the integration of learning into my practice that was the greatest value, and the greatest joy.

We are bombarded with information every day.  We can prioritize the information we access based on our learning needs. This informal learning is targeted to meet those needs.  I have integrated a structured process for reviewing key web sites and information from key resources.  ANPD provides excellent resources in nursing professional development, and a method for us to track our continuing education though the Professional Development Center (www.anpd.org).  I schedule time on my calendar to review current information, and select key readings from business literature every month, e.g. Harvard Business Review.  I review new posts on the ANCC and ANA websites monthly, including ANA testimony in Congress (http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/Policy-Advocacy/Federal/Testimony).  TheJournal for Nurses in Professional Development (http://journals.lww.com/jnsdonline) is an ANPD member benefit.  Through online searches you can access current NPD best practices from your computer or iPad®.   To augment information in articles published in numerous journals, I often contact authors to discuss their work.  I am always impressed with how generous authors are in sharing their experiences and insights.

Perhaps the learning opportunity that gives me the most joy is learning from other NPD specialists—novice to expert.  Hearing exceptional insights, seeing the enthusiasm, and pausing to appreciate unique settings and roles is intriguing to me.  Thoughts and questions from the novice NPD specialist always remind me of the importance of fresh eyes and questioning the status quo.  Learning from experts provides new perspectives and research that I can share with others.  Recently I was facilitating a regional workshop for nurse and non-nurse educators.  The group included novice to expert educators.  The participants demonstrated such energy for learning, including learning from each other.  I was impressed with the openness of sharing, collaboration, and networking.  They were committed to sharing ideas with each other, and to their personal growth and development.  At one point I paused, and just observed their interactions.  I was truly inspired.

I am also committed to informal learning through self-reflection—what did I learn from a specific experience?  What would I do differently the next time I am in a similar situation?  How did I make a difference with others?  How can I be a resource to others in the future?  Integrating learning into practice is certainly lifelong. 



I believe as NPD specialists we have the opportunity and privilege to learn from every encounter.  Whether it is learning something new or understanding something in a new way, what joy there is in lifelong learning!

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