Life-long Learning Outside the Cube:
Where are you residing?

We can think about three dimensions of learning scenarios that define a cube. The first dimension along one edge of the cube varies according to how well-defined or ‘well-trodden’ the questions are. Traditional classroom learning takes place toward the end of this dimension where problems are well-defined and where everyone involved knows in advance that answers are known. At the other end of this dimension, academics explore research questions for which it may turn out that answers do not exist. Thus, research can be a scary yet exhilarating prospect.

The second dimension, running along an orthogonal edge of the cube, varies according to how idealized the problems are. Another way to think of this is as the ‘messiness’ dimension. By the time problems show up in a classroom, they have been abstracted and tidied up considerably. Real-world problems are much more messy.

Finally, the third edge of the cube runs perpendicular to both of the others and reflects a dimension that varies with respect to the source of motivation. We can think of school classes as providing an external motivation; students in high school take classes because they have to, and in college, most classes are taken because they are either general education or major requirements. Later in life, many people voluntarily take classes in adult- or continuing-education programs. Beyond this, there is much to learn for which there are not classes offered. But such will not be learned unless the learner is both self-motivated and persistent.

So we find ourselves with a cube where traditional learning models dwell in one particular corner. These are situations where students are externally motivated to learn highly idealized content, free of complicating factors, and for which the answers have been known for quite some time. But there is a whole cube to explore! You will find God's glory in every corner of the universe; yes, even in the messy corners.

Whatever you do, you need to get off the beaten path and explore some questions that haven't been as well studied. As a first and very modest step, you should seek out research opportunities with faculty at your institution or with REUs at other campuses during the summer. You need to immerse yourself in the messiness of life; unfortunately, the problems that matter in the lives of real people are not nicely idealized. In fact, ministering to God's loved ones who suffer from mental illness, addiction, or homelessness is a great way to enlarge your habitation of creation. You need to cultivate your curiosity that prompts the asking of questions and your habit of chasing down answers to those questions. This could be the most challenging yet most adventurous territory to explore; force yourself to ask questions and then find answers to them.

Be the cube. Fill the cube. Expand beyond the cube.