Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Bena Kallick is a private consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United States and internationally. Arthur L. Costa is professor emeritus of education at California State University, Sacramento, and co-founder of the Institute for Intelligent Behavior in El Dorado Hills, California.

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All of the top achievers I know are lifelong learners… looking for new skills, insights and ideas. If they’re not learning, they’re not growing… not moving toward excellence.

Denis Waitley

Successful people are in a continuous learning mode. Their confidence, in combination with their curiosity, allows them to constantly search for new and better ways to learn and improve.

They seek feedback on their work: always growing, always learning, always modifying and improving themselves. They seize problems, situations, tensions, conflicts and circumstances as valuable opportunities to learn.

Fearing feedback holds us back

For some people, feedback represents a threat to what they know.

They fear that new information will get in the way of their work rather than help them to improve their work. They confront new learning opportunities with fear rather than mystery and wonder. They seem to feel better when they have the certainty of knowing rather than the uncertainty of learning new ideas. They defend their biases, beliefs, and storehouses of knowledge rather than inviting the unknown, the creative and the inspirational.

Perhaps some of us are afraid that if we admit our ignorance or confusion, peers and teachers will think we are a failure, that we are inadequate or stupid. On the one hand, they know they must learn how to learn, but they are afraid to admit it. Being certain and closed gives them comfort while being ambiguous, doubtful, and open gives them fear.

However, when we are closed, we are not open to new questions, new ideas, and discovering our own new capacities and innovations. What we are seeing in today’s workplace is that workers value and appreciate weekly or even daily feedback from supervisors, instead of more formal annual performance reviews (Kiplinger, 2015). They recognize that continuous learning is far better than a single evaluation at the end of the year.

Feedback “addiction” and analysis are essential to continuous learning

Remaining open to continuous learning is an essential characteristic of self-directed, continual, lifelong learners, and should be nurtured both at home and in school.

Self-directed, continuous learners are “addicted” to feedback. This implies that they actively gather and interpret feedback through self-observation by:

  1. Consciously monitoring their own feelings, attitudes, and skills
  2. Inviting feedback from teachers, parents, and peers, and through interviews with others
  3. Collecting evidence showing the effects of their own efforts

Data is then analyzed, interpreted, and internalized. Based on this analysis, self-directed learners modify their actions to more closely achieve their goals. Thus, they become continually self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying (Costa & Kallick, 1995 p. 27).

Our vision is of creative students and people who are eager to learn. That includes the humility of knowing what we don’t know, which is the highest form of thinking we will ever learn. Paradoxically, unless you start off with humility, you will never get ahead. As the first step, you have to have the crowning glory of all learning: the humility to know (and admit when you don’t know) and not be afraid to find out by asking questions and seeking feedback.

As Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman said, “We need to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed. It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know.'”


Costa, A & Kallick, B. (1995 ) Assessment in the Learning Organization. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
The Kiplinger Letter, Oct 16, 2015. Vol 92, No 42 p 1 Washington DC:

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