• September 2014

Barbara Mitchell on the Art of Being a Lifelong Learner

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook and The Big Book of HR

One of my volunteer activities is working as a video presenter at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.

You first should understand that I am neither an artist nor an art historian, but I am passionate about learning, so when a friend and colleague told me about her experiences presenting via two-way video feed to schools all over the United States, I thought it was worth a try because I would be learning something new.

After a rigorous application and interview process, I was selected to attend the intensive training program. It was fascinating and I loved the learning process, but was totally unprepared for the vast amount of homework we had to do.

There were 10 of us in the class, and we each had to do a final presentation on one of the 12 topics in the program. Mine was on American signs and symbols—such as the flag and the Statue of Liberty.

I was really nervous until I learned I had passed and would be presenting to school kids around the country. It is an amazing experience to spend an hour with kids and show them art from our museum and get them talking about what they see.

Many of the schools we work with are in areas of the country where there aren’t a lot of museums. We tell people that our museum contains “art that tells America’s stories,” and I love getting to share those stories with kids.

Here is why I wanted to share this experience with you.

  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum video-conferencing program has now been expanded to working with adults through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). This is a program for adults who participate “for the joy of learning and personal fulfillment,” without examinations or grades.
  • OLLI works with universities around the country to sponsor these programs, and now our Smithsonian American Art Museum video conferences are offered to OLLI participants. I did my first program in August for a wonderful group of adults at North Florida University, and it was totally different from working with kids—these people knew more than I did about much of the art, but we had fun together and I learned a lot! I know I will enjoy doing more of the adult programs as the year progresses.
  • I love to learn new things! It is energizing and exciting to expand my brain to include something new. I learn new things all the time in my HR consulting practice and when I write HR books, but learning about art and using technology to reach student in places where they don’t have access to museums was totally new for me, and I love it.
  • Does learning something new keep you young? It just might. I recently read about a 101-year-old woman who was attending a class at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee. She certainly is the definition of a lifelong learner, and she encourages others to keep educating themselves. Good for her. And good advice for all of us.

Parting Thought

There are many ways to learn; signing up for a class is just one of them. It’s easy to take advantage of some of the wonderful ways we have to expand our knowledge these days. For example, lots of free webinars are available on a variety of topics, and you can find many interesting subjects discussed, displayed, or taught on YouTube.

Of course books, whether in print or on your eReader, are a wonderful source of knowledge, so whatever is your favorite method to learn, I hope you discover the pleasure of becoming a lifelong learner.


About Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for organizations around the world.

She has served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and at several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding The Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. “Click here to buy The Big Book.

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