On Becoming a Learner

The Concept of Learning Identity

David Justice was dedicated to learning in both his professional and personal life. We are privileged to have been his friend and to share the joy of living that his love of learning brought. He was for us a model of someone for whom learning was “a way of being”. So it is fitting that we dedicate this essay in his memory to the concept of learning identity. In our 40 years of research on experiential learning theory (ELT) we have come to an approach to living that we call “the learning way” (Kolb 1984, Kolb & Kolb 2009). The learning way is about approaching life experiences with a learning attitude. It involves a deep trust in one’s own experience and a healthy skepticism about received knowledge. It requires the perspective of quiet reflection and a passionate commitment to action in the face of uncertainty. The learning way is not the easiest way to approach life but in the long run it is the wisest. Other ways of living tempt us with immediate gratification at our peril. The way of dogma, the way of denial, the way of addiction, the way of submission and the way of habit; all offer relief from uncertainty and pain at the cost of entrapment on a path that winds out of our control. The learning way requires deliberate effort to create new knowledge in the face of uncertainty and failure; but opens the way to new, broader and deeper horizons of experience. Learning is intrinsically rewarding and empowering, bringing new avenues of experience and new realms of mastery.