I recently found myself pondering what exactly is meant by the cliché “live and learn”.  According to The Free Dictionary, it means to “increase one’s knowledge by experience. (Usually said when one is surprised to learn something.)”  The cliché seems to imply that if I am living, I am learning.  It also seems to assume that I will find myself surprised by the experience of learning.  I don’t know about you, but to me these ideas take a somewhat laissez faire approach to learning.  I do realize that every now and then, we learn something unanticipated from an experience.  However, as an adult learner, I don’t really anticipate that I should be “surprised” by the experience of learning.  Rather, learning should be something intentional; something that I choose to do quite deliberately.

I can better relate to what Merriam and Bierema (2014) have to say about learning.  According to the authors, anyone who fails to learn is regarded as “oku eniyan” or “the living dead”.   In other words, to refuse to apply oneself to the activity of learning is akin to walking through life as “the living dead”!

The antithesis of what Merriam and Bierema describe as an “oku eniyam” is one who becomes fully alive through the continual stimulus of applying oneself to learning.  Here, there is no passive, laissez faire attitude.  Rather, there is joyful exuberance in the willful choice to embrace purposeful learning in adulthood.

As I read through what Vella (2008) and Caffarella (2013) had to say about the planning that goes into adult learning programs, this only reinforced my thoughts.  Authentic learning happens because of thoughtful, careful planning – not through happen stance.  I rather think that “learn and live” is a more appropriate way of describing the adventure and commitment to lifelong learning.

I will probably never think of the cliché “live and learn” in quite the same way again.

Caffarella R. & Daffron S. (2013). Planning programs for adult learners: A practical guide. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

Merriam, S. & Bierema, L. (2014).  Adult learning:  Linking theory and practice.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

The Free Dictionary (2014). Retrieved from

Vella, J. (2008). On teaching and learning: Putting principles and practices of dialogue education into action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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3 Responses to

  1. lisacsansone says:

    I agree! Learning is something intentional. If you think about the times when you did learn by accident, I still think you made a conscious decision to absorb, reflect and then learn from the experience. There are millions of opportunities in which to learn, but some individuals look at this situations and never learn a thing. They go right back to making the same mistakes a second time – the “living dead” as you shared from Merriam and Bierema.

    • My point, exactly! I like the way you refer to the “conscious decision to absorb”. It seems a great waste of energy to repeat mistakes over and over again in life because you are not committed to the learning which can come through experience. Motivation is certainly a key factor in learning as an adult.

  2. Joanne Even says:

    Isn’t it funny how you can use a phrase for years without ever thinking about what it means? Life and learn. YES! I will not use it capriciously again!

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