Lifelong Learning (Research) as a Struggle

I approached the project as something that needs a plan and project management, sought the data and set out to implement the steps. And then I found that my supervisor was correct. Life just plain gets in the way. My project is about lifelong learning. This is a project that may take seven years, a fair chunk of my life. And lots of learning. What I viewed as something outside of me, I now see as a part of who I am.

Who am I, in the context of this project? What is it that draws me to the topic? What is my voice in this context? What is happening to me?

I entered my adult life seeking to be an engineer. My goal was to become an electrical engineer, to design and build products that made communication possible. My pathway to that goal was complex, not understood especially by me and ultimately led in different directions. However, I learnt both consciously and subconsciously every step of the way. That was okay because I heard while still at university the first time, that ‘scientists and engineers need to update their human capital at a regular basis in order to prevent skills obsolescence’ (Grip & Smits, 2012, p. 583). But isn’t there a smarter way to plan my own learning journey?

Technology will help, right? As an engineer I knew that I would find the solution in the tools that I could find and use. Earlier this year I took a side track on my journey by using a new technology, accessing free online learning provided by a well renowned university. I chose to study Social and Economic Networks from Stanford University, a MOOC course designed to help PhD students like me. A MOOC is ‘a dynamic learning model that offers collaborative and social engagement opportunities for learners to construct knowledge’ (Skiba, 2012, p. 416). I did well enough to get a distinction. Yet again my supervisor was right though. It didn’t help me.

What with all the changes going on in the vocational education sector, I thought I needed to change my job to ensure that I continued to be able to focus on vocational training, rather than moving into the periphery. So, I secured a fantastic dynamic job which I enjoy greatly – challenges and opportunities abound. What I didn’t realise is the accelerating change of the vocational education market and the juggling of priorities would bring on other issues (Dempsey, 2013). I am gaining great insight into the learning journey of others. However, finding the time to focus on my own research has become more challenging.

Just to make things easier (shorter commute and closer to the middle of the city), we decided to move. Moving is apparently one of the most stressful things one can do, as I know from a life that has been largely chopped into three year location chunks (, 2013). Time for research and writing takes a hammering when a move is to be planned and implemented (and yet to be completed in our case).

What I have learnt so far is that lifelong learning is a complex, unwieldy phenomenon that operates in spite of what life throws at us. My supervisor tells me with patience that what I most need to do is write. I believe him fully. What I am hoping is that by struggling to write in whatever form, I am indeed making the connections in the grey matter that will lead to a re-establishment of a path to my research objectives. If the form of writing I am doing is yet to meet the standards required of my research, then I am following the advice of a fellow doctoral student to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ (Spradlin, 2011). I only hope my supervisor knows that I am trying to listen.


Dempsey, M. (2013). Impacts of the changing nature of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system on educators within the VET system in Australia. Doctor of Education, Edith Cowan University. Retrieved from

Grip, A. d., & Smits, W. (2012). What affects lifelong learning of scientists and engineers? International Journal of Manpower, 33(5), 583-597. Retrieved from doi:10.1108/01437721211253209

Skiba, D. J. (2012). Disruption in higher education: massively open online courses (MOOCs). Nursing Education Perspectives, 33, 416+. Retrieved from

Spradlin, A. (2011). Fake It ‘Til You Make It. Psychology Today, The Empathic Misanthrope(September 11, 2011). Retrieved from Psychology Today website: (2013). What are the top 5 most stressful things in life?  Retrieved 4 Aug 2013, from


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