Ikigai and purpose-inspired learning

Learning should begin with finding one's purpose -- the 'why' behind what propels us forward

How many times do you remember your school days being enriched with purpose and driven by a personal passion for learning? If you are one of many who went through a traditional education system, I would hazard a guess that it wasn’t very often.  

In the 15 years of formal education assigned to me, one learning experience springs to mind more than any; I was asked to form a four-piece band and perform two Beatles songs at a school concert and had a couple of weeks to prepare. The preparation was meticulous, not because a teacher pushed us hard, but because we cared and we pushed ourselves hard. The night of the performance was one of the most memorable learning experiences I ever had. We had a purpose and a reason to focus, and this created the motivation and agency to succeed. I am confident I could still pick up my guitar and sing those two Beatles songs with ease more than 20 years later because of the deep connection I had with that process.  

With learning, if you can find your purpose, or your why, then motivation comes much more easily. Having a purpose creates the drive to push through the pain points that come when it gets tough. Learning is not always easy, but having a clear purpose can help foster the passion to drive success. 

Millions of kids around the world are, on a daily basis, told what to learn and how to learn it. This, for a minority, is adequate motivation, but for most other people it comes up short in providing the inspiration to engage and succeed. We live in an age where bespoke, highly personal learning can occur and where education can become a rite of passage where everyone gets to celebrate.

Imagine what education would be like if every learning experience began with individuals finding and understanding their purpose or why; if every student was given agency to decide what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn it, and were guided by professionals who could mentor and coach them to inspire success.  

At Learnlife, purpose-inspired learning is embedded into every learning experience beginning with every individual. Based on the Japanese ikigai model, we use this model as the educational lens through which all learning experiences begin. 

The Japanese concept ikigai reinforces the role that purpose plays in our lives. The word originated in Okinawa, Japan - a combination of iki - meaning life and gai - meaning value or worth. Applying the ikigai framework to learning plays a fundamental part in increasing motivation, momentum and focus. It is essentially a pathway that can lead to individual purpose. 

As learners are led through a purpose-inspired ikigai process, they are encouraged to consider;

i) their personal and potential professional talents;

ii) the things they love; 

iii) what the world needs and;

iv) what they might get recognition for.

Using the ikigai process leads students to a more profound understanding of themselves and this can help sharpen their decisions on the things they enjoy and where they should focus their efforts. If students have time to focus on those four key areas, it will support the pathway that can lead to purpose and self-fulfilment. 

Purpose can be broad and encompass many things. Maybe you have a passion for one specific thing, for example, cars, and this passion might lead you to mechanical engineering, car design, racing; the options are endless. Maybe you have a passion for learning; you love the feeling of flow when you are engaged in learning new things and don’t have one specific purpose or ‘craft’ as such, but enjoy the journey that new learning experiences provide. 

If you find your purpose, you will want to spend a lifetime cultivating that craft you love. The feeling where time goes by fast because you have been so engaged in your learning, will be regular and personal fulfilment will increase. 

A learning community must cultivate and inspire its individuals to have a purpose for learning. This can support the pathway of the lifelong learner and ensure that the guiding light of success that learning can create is always bright and burning. If a community can succeed in supporting each of its students to find that purpose, then learning might just become as attractive to them as the on-demand world that they live in. 

To see examples from some of our learners' projects as they explore and dive deeper into finding their own purpose, this playlist may give some insight into how our learners find their why in our Learnlife Barcelona hub.

For example, the video below tells the story about Monica, one of our learners in the Changemakers programme with a passion for architecture and interior design. This learner-led project by Monica explains how she collaborated with our architect, Sol Espoille, to co-create and co-design one of the rooms in our Barcelona learning hub.

Authored by: Bryan Gibson, Research & Paradigm Design at Learnlife

Written by