In his 1999 book, Peak Learning, Ronald Gross says that “peak learners” display five key characteristics:

- “they feel best about themselves when they are learning something new.”

- “they are keenly aware of how much they don’t know, but that doesn’t bother them.”

- they “have learned enormously from important life experiences and in other ways outside the normal channels of study.”

- they have “[c]onfidence in [their] ability to learn and to understand.” And

- they “believe that investing time in their own personal growth is the best investment they can make in the future.”

Peak Learning, pages 2-3.

I have a lot of thoughts about how we best learn and, as with all of the subjects I raise on this blog, I try to make sure I research what I’m writing about.  There is no one-size-fits all methodology, at least none that I’ve seen that has survived rigorous scrutiny.  But Gross’s characteristics are certainly important for those who learn best.  They boil down to curiosity, willingness to risk, and willingness and desire to grow.

Are there people in your life whom you can identify as examples of life-long learners? When I think of models of learning, I always recall a favorite professor of politics at Wake Forest, Saguiv Hadari.  Saguiv came to Wake Forest during my sophomore year, and I had the honor of serving as his research assistant for three years.  He was young — only about 24 when he joined the faculty, with a doctorate newly minted from Princeton. Although Saguiv taught international politics and political theory, his mind and writing ranged over a multitude of subjects.  He engaged me in that inquiry, and he taught me that intellectual hauteur is incompatible with peak learning.  Of course, he was a forceful advocate of what he believed.  But he reveled in what he did not know, he asked questions of students (including me) and actually listened to and learned from their answers.  He was more than anything else joyful about the search, about questioning, about not knowing, but asking.

Saguiv died very young, shortly after I graduated from college.  But it is to him I turn, again and again, with thanks for my wide-ranging desire to know, and what I hope (in my best times) is at least some humility that comes from awareness of what I don’t know.  I have no doubt that had he lived, he would be as young in spirit today as he was decades ago, his youthfulness stemming from his curiosity, his willingness to risk, and his desire to grow.  During the too few years I knew him Saguiv gave me a model of life-long, peak learning that I carry with me to this day.

What can you learn from those who learn best?  What can all of us learn from them?  Drop me a line with your thoughts, or let me know who most influenced you.