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Purpose-Inspired Learning

  • Preparing the Community
  • 16 minutes read
  • Full version
  • Preparing the Community
  • 16 minutes read
  • Full version

Overview...

Learnlife’s vision, which supports purpose-inspired learning, follows the Japanese philosophy ikigai. Ikigai roughly translates to mean ‘a reason for being.’ Ikigai is the source of value in one's life and that which makes it worthwhile. The ikigai philosophy originates in Okinawa, Japan, where its inhabitants are among those who enjoy the highest life-expectancy in the world.  

Learnlife acknowledges a connection between education and ikigai, believing that purpose-inspired learning is a strong foundation from which to live a life that supports ‘a reason for being.’

The Learnlife model helps learners discover their ikigai. It facilitates bespoke, individualised learning experiences that help students thrive and encourages a lifelong learning pathway. At Learnlife, passion is the fuel to drive a journey of purpose-inspired learning, and having purpose helps every student find that passion.  

Executive Summary

Learning can be fun. It can also be hard work. So often perceptions of our own experiences of learning will dictate how we feel about it. But learning should be empowering, helping us become stronger and more capable. It needs to make sense and have meaning. It needs to have purpose. 

Any learning paradigm should enable purpose-inspired learning opportunities if all students are to achieve fulfilment through their learning journey.

In this context the ikigai concept is useful as a tool to consider what our own individual purpose in life might be. Ikigai originated in Okinawa, Japan - a combination of Iki - meaning life and Gai - meaning value or worth. It roughly translates to mean ‘a reason for being’. 

The ikigai process is ongoing and actively encourages students to consider;

  1. their personal and potential professional talents;
  2. the things they love; 
  3. what the world needs and;
  4. what they might get recognition for.

Enabling students to understand and articulate their ikigai, or purpose, is a way to motivate and inspire learning pathways that foster self-determined, lifelong learning. Having a sense of purpose can equip the students of today with the skills required to navigate an ambiguous tomorrow. A learning paradigm that inspires purpose sets students on a path of deep learning, wellness and a lifetime of wonder in pursuit of the discoveries that can inspire them towards success and fulfilment.

Starting Questions

  1. What do you and/or your learning community believe should be a core driver of learning? Is it the need to prepare for certification via examination and assessment processes, or is it more personal? 
  2. Do people arrive at a sense of purpose and that remains for life, or does purpose evolve and shift?
  3. How does purpose motivate? 
  4. Are all components of the ikigai  model of equal significance? (i.e. what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs and what you can be recognised for)
  5. Does mandated curriculum effectively negate any sense of individual purpose?

Key Initial Actions

  1. Initiate a whole team conversation around the concept of purpose-inspired learning. Tackle the issue of what it might mean if learning experiences were linked more to purpose than curriculum statements. 
  2. Create a strategy that seeks to interpret the concept of purpose and, if used, Ikigai, into age/stage meaningful interpretations. Create tactics for keeping the notion of continual reflection on purpose current for all the community.
  3. Have all the adults go through a process of using Ikigai as the basis for discussion about their own purpose.  
  4. Share narratives around purpose among all key actors in the community. Research should be included in this sharing process and should include individual and community examples of lived purpose.  

On-going Actions

  1. Promote the language of purpose in visible and active ways. Bring the word purpose into posters, messages and dialogue.
  2. Ongoing training of teachers/learning guides/leaders to talk about purpose in ways that will bring the concept alive to everyone in the community - whether they are adults or children. 
  3. Provide continued mentoring and coaching for students around purpose, recognising that individual purpose might be constantly evolving.
  4. Discuss ways to measure the impact that a foundational emphasis on purpose may (or may not) be having. 

Further Reading 

Books

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Find out more

In an effort to create as many non-formal learning contexts at a school in Sydney, I recall seeing some brilliant innovative work undertaken by a pair of 12-13 year old students. They selected a challenge that would inspire them on a week-long project. The challenge they set themselves was to find a more cost-efficient way to capture footage of a bushfire to lower the expenses (and danger) of using a helicopter and camera crew. The research they carried out suggested it cost roughly $6000AUD every time a helicopter flight was needed for aerial surveillance. 

Their solution? 

Use a drone with a video camera and modify it. They added heat sensors to the drone, which automatically lifted it upwards when it was close to melting point. The two students made a workable prototype within a week! 

I am convinced that if much of the clutter created by mandated curricula was removed, our students would accelerate in their learning, inspired by authentic and creative purpose.

Key Ideas

  1. Having a purpose is crucial to fostering self-fulfillment and a concept which should be explored in all learning communities.
  2. The ikigai concept encourages lifelong self-fulfillment and can be used to support a lifelong, purpose-inspired learning journey.
  3. Ikigai can be viewed as a process individuals can use to inspire a journey of purpose.
  4. Examples of purpose-inspired accomplishments are evident throughout history and contemporary society.

Questions

  • How might a learning community create a culture that fosters individual purpose for learning?
  • How is the ikigai philosophy relevant outside of its cultural surroundings?
  • Can you think of any purpose-inspired narratives that are relevant to your cultural context?
  • How might journeying towards one’s purpose for learning inspire them towards self-fulfillment?

1. Having a purpose is crucial to fostering self-fulfillment and a concept which should be explored in all learning communities.
We live in an era of transition, and welcomed or not, it continues to challenge firmly rooted traditions upheld in society. The advent of the world wide web, for example, has redefined education by removing the need for teacher-centred classrooms and ushering in student-centred learning. Embracing this potential is where the idea of purpose can come alive in learning communities.

‘Purpose’ is a concept which supports how we ought to live our lives and a key ingredient to self-fulfilment. It is observable in many places; in people with a positive sense of self; those striving for personal or career development; or in personal passions which display unique skills.

Purpose inspires the habits of humanity.

At Learnlife, purpose is central to helping students envision their future. A well-understood sense of purpose inspires students to seek out learning experiences that are self-fulfilling. The advancement of technology means education can deliver a learning paradigm that supports individual purpose within a learning community.

2. The ikigai concept encourages lifelong self-fulfillment and can be used to support a lifelong, purpose-inspired learning journey.
The Japanese concept ikigai reinforces the role that purpose plays in our lives. The word ikigai originated in Okinawa, Japan - a combination of iki - meaning life and gai - meaning value or worth. It is a lens through which to view life and to support fulfillment. While the ikigai concept might focus on general life, viewing it through an educational lens can play a fundamental part in increasing motivation, momentum and focus. It is essentially a pathway that can lead to individual purpose.

3. Ikigai can be viewed as a process individuals can use to inspire a journey of 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. As conversations around ikigai are repeated, learners can establish and perhaps cultivate an understanding of their life’s purpose and how this might fit into the world around them. It is through these intersections where an awareness of purpose can emerge. Finding purpose helps individuals become more engaged in learning, more connected with the surrounding community and more inspired to make a difference in the world around them.

It makes sense to begin a purpose-inspired learning journey as soon as a child is capable of asking questions about themselves and their world.

4. Examples of purpose-inspired accomplishments are evident throughout history and contemporary society.
One need not look too hard to find narratives of purpose-inspired accomplishments. A clear sense of purpose can energise, provoke action and in many instances start social movements or lead to new discoveries. Marie Curie exemplifies this well. Purpose fuelled her passion for science, leading her to discover polonium and radium.

English politician, William Wilberforce, is another great example. Wilberforce was passionate about ending the colonial-era slave trade. His sense of purpose drove him to see the Slavery Abolition Act become law in 1833, just before he died.

Psychiatrist, David Viscott, wrote of purpose and a life of purpose. In 1993 he was published stating that the “purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away”.

An individual's purpose or ikigai can span across any number of genres; the arts, science, politics, technology, innovation, food, health, literature, music, mathematics, sport and languages, to name a few.

The purpose at Learnlife is to grow communities committed to a common good - to inspire lifelong, purpose-inspired learning. This journey begins with every unique individual. For a learner to truly thrive, they must have a strong sense of purpose, something that can help grow the resilience and self-determination to succeed.

At Learnlife, students are inspired to find and build their why.

Act now

Purpose shapes the culture of any organisation, and culture emerges from the subcultures of a community. So having a clear sense of individual purpose is important. To implement a culture of purpose, or ikigai, the first step is to evaluate whether a learning community inspires its individuals to find their own purpose.

The following steps can help create a purpose-inspired learning community:

  1. Understand purpose
    Understand the importance of purpose. Choose a model such as ikigai to help cultivate this understanding and process.

  2. Align
    Allow a shared understanding of purpose to align the community around its importance.

  3. Share experiences
    Share narratives around purpose among all key actors in the community. Research should be included in this sharing process and include individual and community examples of lived purpose.

  4. Train and talk
    Train leaders to talk about purpose in ways that will bring the concept alive to everyone in the community - whether they are adults or children.

  5. Organise repeated workshops
    Learners will benefit from continued mentoring and coaching around purpose. It should not be a ‘one-off’ topic. Purpose can change over time so revisiting it will keep the concept fresh.

  6. Promote
    Promote the language of purpose in visible and active ways.

  7. Measure
    Every community is different. Discuss ways to measure the impact that a foundational emphasis on purpose may (or may not) be having.

  8. Strategise
    Create strategies that can strengthen individual and collective perceptions of purpose. The above points are useful strategies to begin from.

Examples in action

When an individual discovers their ‘why’ or ‘reason for being,’ the journey of purpose begins. People who have discovered their ikigai have a clear understanding of the following:

  • What they love;
  • what they are good at;
  • what the world needs from them and;
  • what they can get paid for.

This short video clip beautifully captures the ikigai concept: The Ikigai Concept

Dan Buettner, National Geographic fellow and New York Times best selling author explains that the success of ikigai lies in putting purpose into action: Ikigai: the secret to a longer and happier life.

Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+ (Ikigai - 10.31).

The World Economic Forum, similar to Dan Buettner, explains that ikigai involves not just finding what your purpose is, but actually putting it into practice: Is this Japanese concept the secret to a long, happy, meaningful life?

Academic research carried out by David Yeager demonstrates the impact that purpose-inspired learning has on academic performance. When a learner realises the purpose for carrying out a task to completion, it creates increased motivation and academic self-regulation: David Yeager: How teachers can use youth Purpose.

The Rockwood Leadership Institute, an environmental activist group, inspires purposeful leadership and equips individuals with the tools and skills to help change themselves, their communities and the world: Rockwood Leadership Institute.

Their list of 132 questions provides a framework for catalysing purposeful change. These questions can be fastened seamlessly to learning contexts. Below are a list of some of them:

  • What excites you?
  • What difference do you want to make?
  • What brings you joy?
  • How do you want to make others feel?
  • What would you do if no one needed [insert your job here] anymore?
  • What problem do you want to solve?
  • What do you wish you had more time to do?
  • When do you feel most like yourself?
  • What makes you lose track of time?
  • What motivates you when you’re most productive?
  • What’s something you’d do even if you never made any money?

Here is a link to the full list of questions: 132 Of The Best Questions To Help You Reflect On Your Purpose.

Further reading

Watch

Special thanks to the following co-creators:

Stephen Harris

Co-Founder & Chief Learning Officer

Bryan Gibson

Research and Paradigm Design