Learning to Love Learning

Adapted from an address delivered at Brigham Young University on April 24, 2008. For the full text, visit: speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1777.


David A. Bednar
Understanding who we are, where we came from, and why we are on the earth places upon each of us a great responsibility both to learn how to learn and to learn to love learning.

Learning to love learning is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ, is vital to ourongoing spiritual and personal development, and is an absolute necessity in the world in which we do now and will yet live, serve, and work. I want to briefly discuss the importance of learning to love learning in three aspects of our lives.

1. Learning to Love Learning Is Central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The overarching purpose of Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness is to provide His spirit children with opportunities to learn. The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the agency afforded to all of the Father’s children through the Redeemer’s infinite and eternal sacrifice are divinely designed to facilitate our learning. The Savior said, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (D&C 19:23).

We are assisted in learning of and listening to the words of Christ by the Holy Ghost, even the third member of the Godhead. The Holy Ghost reveals and witnesses the truth of all things and brings all things to our remembrance (see John 14:26, 16:13; Moroni 10:5; D&C 39:6). The Holy Ghost is the teacher who kindles within us an abiding love of and for learning.

We repeatedly are admonished in the revelations to ask in faith when we lack knowledge (see James 1:5–6), to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), and to inquire of God that we might receive instruction from His Spirit (see D&C 6:14) and “know mysteries which are great and marvelous” (D&C 6:11). The restored Church of Jesus Christ exists today to help individuals and families learn about and receive the blessings of the Savior’s gospel.

A hierarchy of importance exists among the things you and I can learn. Indeed, all learning is not equally important. The Apostle Paul taught this truth in his second epistle to Timothy as he warned that in the latter days many people would be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

Some facts are helpful or interesting to know. Some knowledge is useful to learn and apply. But gospel truths are essential for us to understand and live if we are to become what our Heavenly Father yearns for us to become. The type of learning I am attempting to describe is not merely the accumulation of data and facts and frameworks; rather, it is acquiring and applying knowledge for righteousness.

The revelations teach us that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36). We typically may think the word intelligence in this scripture denotes innate cognitive ability or a particular gift for academic work. In this verse, however, one of the meanings of intelligence is the application of the knowledge we obtain for righteous purposes. As President David O. McKay (1873–1970) taught, the learning “for which the Church stands—is the application of knowledge to the development of a noble and Godlike character.” 1

You and I are here on the earth to prepare for eternity, to learn how to learn, to learn things that are temporally important and eternally essential, and to assist others in learning wisdom and truth (see D&C 97:1). Understanding who we are, where we came from, and why we are on the earth places upon each of us a great responsibility both to learn how to learn and to learn to love learning.

2. Learning to Love Learning Is Vital to Our Ongoing Spiritual and Personal Development

President Brigham Young (1801–1877) was a learner. Although President Young had only 11 days of formal schooling, he understood the need for learning both the wisdom of God and the things of the world. He was a furniture maker, a missionary, a colonizer, a governor, and the Lord’s prophet.

I marvel at both the way Brigham Young learned and how much he learned. He never ceased learning from the revelations of the Lord, from the scriptures, and from good books. Perhaps President Young was such a consummate learner precisely because he was not constrained unduly by the arbitrary boundaries so often imposed through the structures and processes of formal education. He clearly learned to love learning. He clearly learned how to learn. He ultimately became a powerful disciple and teacher precisely because he first was an effective learner.

President Young repeatedly taught that “the object of [our mortal] existence is to learn.” 2 The following statements by President Young emphasize this truth:

  • “The religion embraced by the Latter-day Saints, if only slightly understood, prompts them to search diligently after knowledge. There is no other people in existence more eager to see, hear, learn, and understand truth.” 3

  • “Put forth your ability to learn as fast as you can, and gather all the strength of mind and principle of faith you possibly can, and then distribute your knowledge to the people.” 4

  • “This work is a progressive work, this doctrine that is taught the Latter-day Saints in its nature is exalting, increasing, expanding and extending broader and broader until we can know as we are known, see as we are seen.” 5

  • “We are in the school [of mortality] and keep learning, and we do not expect to cease learning while we live on earth; and when we pass through the veil, we expect still to continue to learn and increase our fund of information. That may appear a strange idea to some; but it is for the plain and simple reason that we are not capacitated to receive all knowledge at once. We must therefore receive a little here and a little there.” 6

  • “We might ask, when shall we cease to learn? I will give you my opinion about it: never, never.” 7

Brigham Young’s acceptance of and conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ fueled his unceasing curiosity and love of learning. The ongoing spiritual and personal development evidenced in his life is a worthy example for you and for me.

3. Learning to Love Learning Is an Absolute Necessity in the World in Which We Do Now and Will Yet Live, Serve, and Work

On the landmark sign located at the entrance to Brigham Young University, the following motto is found: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” This expression certainly does not imply that everything necessary for a lifetime of meaningful service can or will be obtained during a few short years of higher education. Rather, the spirit of this statement is that students come to receive foundational instruction about learning how to learn and learning to love learning. Furthermore, students’ desires and capacities to serve are not “put on hold” during their university years of intellectual exploration and development.

May I respectfully suggest an addition to this well-known motto that is too long to put on the sign but important for us to remember regardless of which university or college we attend: “Enter to learn to love learning and serving; go forth to continue learning and serving.”

Academic assignments, test scores, and a cumulative GPA do not produce a final and polished product. Rather, students have only started to put in place a foundation of learning upon which they can build forever. Much of the data and knowledge obtained through a specific major or program of study may rapidly become outdated and obsolete. The particular topics investigated and learned are not nearly as important as what has been learned about learning. As we press forward in life—spiritually, interpersonally, and professionally—no book of answers is readily available with guidelines and solutions to the great challenges of life. All we have is our capacity to learn and our love of and for learning.

I believe a basic test exists of our capacity to learn and of the measure of our love of learning. Here is the test: When you and I do not know what to do or how to proceed to achieve a particular outcome—when we are confronted with a problem that has no clear answer and no prescribed pattern for resolution—how do we learn what to do?

This was precisely the situation in which Nephi found himself as he was commanded to build a ship. “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters” (1 Nephi 17:8).

Nephi was not a sailor. He had been reared in Jerusalem, an inland city, rather than along the borders of the Mediterranean Sea. It seems unlikely that he knew much about or had experience with the tools and skills necessary to build a ship. He may not have ever previously seen an oceangoing vessel. In essence, then, Nephi was commanded and instructed to build something he had never built before in order to go someplace he had never been before.

I doubt that any of us will be commanded to build a ship as was Nephi, but each of us will have our spiritual and learning capabilities tested over and over again. The ever-accelerating rate of change in our modern world will force us into uncharted territory and demanding circumstances.

For example, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s college graduates will have between 10 and 14 different jobs by the time they are 38 years old. And the necessary skills to perform successfully in each job assignment will constantly change and evolve.

For much of my career as a professor, there was no Internet, no Google, no Wikipedia, no YouTube, and no telepresence. The Internet only began to be widely used by the general public in the mid-1990s. Prior to that time, no courses were taught about and no majors were offered in Internet-related subjects. I remember teaching myself HTML and experimenting with ways student learning could be enhanced through this new and emerging technology. In contrast, most students today have never known and cannot imagine a world without the Internet and its associated technologies. Can we even begin to imagine how much things will continue to change during the next 15 years?

Because vast amounts of information are so readily available and sophisticated technologies make possible widespread and even global collaboration, we may be prone to put our “trust in the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34; see also 28:31) as we grapple with complex challenges and problems. We perhaps might be inclined to rely primarily upon our individual and collective capacity to reason, to innovate, to plan, and to execute. Certainly we must use our God-given abilities to the fullest, employ our best efforts, and exercise appropriate judgment as we encounter the opportunities of life. But our mortal best is never enough.

President Young testified that we are never left alone or on our own:

“My knowledge is, if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost. … They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, and things under the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities.” 8

Learning to love learning equips us for an ever- changing and unpredictable future. Knowing how to learn prepares us to discern and act upon opportunities that others may not readily recognize. I am confident we will pass the test of learning what to do when we do not know what to do or how to proceed.

I witness the living reality of God the Eternal Father; of our Savior and Redeemer, even the Lord Jesus Christ; and of the Holy Ghost. I also declare my witness that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth in these latter days.

I pray your love of learning will grow ever deeper, ever richer, and ever more complete, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

You and I are here on the earth … to learn things that are temporally important and eternally essential.

“We might ask, when shall we cease to learn? I will give you my opinion about it: never, never.”

President Brigham Young

Knowing how to learn prepares us to discern and act upon opportunities that others may not readily recognize.

Left: Detail from Add to Your Faith Virtue and to Your Virtue Knowledge, by Walter Rane

Photograph by Steve Bunderson

Photograph by Christina Smith

Photograph by Welden Andersen

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    David O. McKay, “True Education,” Improvement Era, March 1957, 141.

  2.   2.

    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 85.

  3.   3.

    Teachings: Brigham Young, 194.

  4.   4.

    Teachings: Brigham Young, 194.

  5.   5.

    Teachings: Brigham Young, 87.

  6.   6.

    Teachings: Brigham Young, 87.

  7.   7.

    Teachings: Brigham Young, 185.

  8.   8.

    Teachings: Brigham Young, 253.