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When we talk about self-directed learning, it may sound as though you as the learner are solely responsible for every phase of the learning process. That impression would be incorrect. While people learn best when they have a voice in what they learn and when and how they learn it, no one would learn very well without help from others or advice or other kinds of feedback to guide us along the way.

I’ve had a lot of mentors in my life. Some were professional teachers whose caring interest has enriched my life. Others may not have known that they were my mentors. Each of my brothers (I have three) and sisters (I have five) has taught me more good things than I can count, and as I’ve gone through life, I have followed their good examples, of the younger siblings as well as of the older ones.

One of the great mentors in my life has been my sister Kathleen. She was the oldest and set a rigorous, energetic, and enthusiastic course for us to follow. And each of us followed that path in our own ways. She was an inspiration to us, and she frequently offered us encouragement as we faced trouble or other challenges.

An old story tells of seven blind men who encountered an elephant. Each of the men felt a different part of the elephant, and later argued about what the elephant was based on their experience. One man, who had felt the elephant’s leg, said the elephant was like a tree trunk. Another, who had felt the elephant’s trunk, said the elephant was like a snake. Another, who had felt the elephant’s tail, declared that the elephant was like a vine.

This story doesn’t illustrate the relativity of truth, as some have supposed. It does show, however, that the most complete learning is relational in a number of ways.

Life is an adventure in learning from beginning to end.

Learning begins with birth and continues each day of life. It happens when we are at home, work, school, or play. It even happens, often, when we sleep. Nothing about the term learning restricts it to formal, classroom situations.