L is for Lifelong Learning
Updated: Jan 17
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Albert Einstein
What is lifelong learning?
Lifelong learning is a form of self-motivated education that is focused on personal development and satisfaction. It is voluntary not obligatory and can be formal or informal.
“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” William S. Burroughs
Values make life worth living; they help us overcome challenges when life is difficult. Learning is part of what makes us human: we have a natural curiosity and we are natural learners. We develop and grow thanks to our ability to learn and in so doing we improve our quality of life , shape our values and sense of self-worth as we pay attention and take action to explore ideas and goals that inspire us.
Most people will learn new things on a daily basis through engaging with others and the world around them, browsing the internet, through trial and error or specific self-initiated study.
Benefits of lifelong learning
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
Specifically incorporating opportunities for lifelong learning into your life can offer many long-term benefits. It is easy to get stuck in a rut but if we take time to remind ourselves about things that inspire us or had ‘always planned to do but never have the time’ it can renew our self-motivation and encourage us to take action, to learn and achieve new things which will add a different dimension to our lives and can even open up opportunities in the future.
When we learn a new skill or acquire new knowledge, we’re also building other valuable skills that can help us in our personal and/or professional lives as we learn e.g. problem solving, creativity, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, reflection, adaptability.
A natural bonus of learning a new skill or improving an existing one is it can increase our levels of self-confidence, belief in our own abilities, self-esteem, sense of accomplishment and general life-satisfaction.
“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.” Rabindranath Tagore
Is lifelong learning important for our mental health?
“When you stop learning you will start dying” Albert Einstein
Lifelong Learning can enhance our understanding of the world around us, provide us with opportunities to improve our quality of life and give us additional tools to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
Studies have found that learning throughout our lives can help those with mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
Like any other muscle in your body, you either use is or lose it, so it is important to keeping your brain stimulated and consistently rewiring itself. Lifelong learning is key to our long-term cognitive functioning and our overall well-being.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together”
Does age or genes affect our ability to learn?
“A consequence of the brain’s plasticity is that the brain may change with every experience, thought and emotion, from which it follows that you yourself have the potential power to change your brain with everything that you do, think, and feel. So brain fitness and optimization are about much more than crossword puzzles and blueberries; they are about cultivating a new mindset and mastering a new toolkit that allow us to appreciate and take full advantage of our brains’ incredible properties.” Alvaro Fernandez (The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness)
Research has shown that the brain never stops changing as we learn. Experiences are able to change our brains, and our brain's structure and capacity are not fixed. The capacity of the brain to change with learning is referred to as the neuroplasticity of the brain. According to studies, only 25% of the way we age is dependent on our genes. The other 75% of the way that we age is in our control. Our environment, lifestyle and behaviour have a greater impact on the way that we age.
The most important thing when it comes to our ability to learn is our mindset and our resulting actions and habits. If we have developed negative thoughts and bad habits we need to practice Kaizen and determine to make consistent, regular micro-actions to break this cycle and create new neural pathways.
Our habits are deeply ingrained and it is not be possible to change them overnight, but it is possible over time through consistent repetition. As we learn new things we increase the chemical signals to our brain and through repetition we can then change the chemical structure of our brain to create new neural pathways and change the structure of our brain. The more you repeat an action, myelin builds on the outside of your neurons enabling your brain to function more efficiently and send signals even faster.
A large percentage of our learning/brain changes happen when we are actually involved in learning a new skill, but we need to consolidate and reinforce this learning which is what the hippocampus does when you are in deep sleep.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Henry Ford
How do we become effective learners?
In his book, ‘Master it Faster’, Colin Rose uses the mnemonic MASTER to describe the six stages he believes can be applied to any type of learning.
Motivation: LLL requires self-motivation, a positive attitude towards learning generally and confidence in your ability to learn
Acquire: Effective learning requires that you acquire relevant and meaningful information and develop this into knowledge and skills
Search: As we learn new information, we need to look for ways to understand how we can apply it to different contexts
Trigger: Look for ways to trigger your ability to retain new information and recall it e.g. through note taking, practice, discussion and experimenting.
Reflect: Think about why you wanted to learn something and how you approached it, your mistakes and successes and how you have changed
“In the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply.”
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Practical ways to increase opportunities for Lifelong Learning in our lives
Reflect on and identify your strengths and weaknesses
Reflect on what you’re passionate about and any interests or goals for the future
Make a list of what skill you would like to learn, subject that you would like to find out about or something that you would like to be able to do/create
Identify your motivation for each of these and what you would like to achieve
Identify what you need to do to get started through research and reading and gathering together information and resources as relevant
Plan how you are going to organise incorporating your new learning or doing activity into your daily life. If you don’t make specific time and space for it, it is unlikely to happen or any impetus will soon fade. Make sure that you set realistic expectations
Make a commitment to yourself to stick to your plan and reinforce this by telling others of your plans. Pearson’s Law says that if you commit to doing something then have someone accountable you will succeed exponentially.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What pro-active steps are you doing to create opportunities for Lifelong Learning?
What skills have you always wanted to learn but not started?
What is stopping you?
What new skill or area are you going to find about today?
How are you going to be creative today?
Don’t forget to look at the Inspiring websites page for direct links to free courses etc
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
There is a good link to 10 TED Talks on the subject of Lifelong Learning as well as other interesting studies below
10 TED TALKS for LLLs