The Importance of Lifelong Learning and How to Cultivate the Learning Habit

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Discover the five reasons lifelong learning is important for personal growth as well as some strategies to cultivate a lifetime habit of learning.

man taking notes with pen and paper while working on laptop

“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”

Wilbur Wright

When I graduated from university, the man who gave the graduation speech had just been awarded his PhD.

He was 86 years old.

And he was embarking on a new career that he had been working towards for a lifetime.

He had absolutely fostered the one trait you need to live the good life.

He was a dedicated lifelong learner (not to mention inspiring).

Education – whether it’s learning economic theory or how to knit a scarf – is the portal to the good life.

Step through the portal, and you’ll be transformed.

The more you actively seek new learning opportunities, the richer and more satisfying your life will be.

What is Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning is what it says on the box: the belief that learning doesn’t stop when school is out.

Rather, learning is something you do from cradle to grave, continually seeking to gain new knowledge and experiences throughout your entire life.

Lifelong learning recognises that learning is not limited to a specific time or place but is a constant and evolving process that enriches our lives in numerous ways.

It can be formal learning – a course in an institution with a recognised certificate or qualification, or informal learning, like learning to code from YouTube videos.

Lifelong learning encourages a holistic approach to personal development. It encompasses various domains, including intellectual, emotional, social, and even physical growth.

It encourages self-reflection, critical thinking, and the exploration of different perspectives. Lifelong learners understand that growth does not have an endpoint; it is an ongoing journey that contributes to personal fulfilment, professional success, and overall well-being.

5 Reasons Why It’s Good to Be a Lifelong Learner

A habit of lifelong learning is more of a necessity than a luxury in the modern world. Stop learning, and you can easily be left behind in your career or worse, replaced by new technology.

Below are five benefits of lifelong learning that include employability, but also other benefits as well.

Because there’s more to lifelong learning than staying on the career ladder. If you’re a dilettante, it’s a passion that gives you the joie de vivre.

1. Life Satisfaction

The radiant smile when a three-year-old declares I did it myself! captures the pride, joy and satisfaction that comes from being capable and competent.

We never grow out of that.

It’s been years now since I worked as an accountant, but when I sat down to help someone with a spreadsheet and I realised I actually knew what I was talking about, I stood a little bit taller and felt a little bit more confident and valuable as a community member.

When you learn new things, you’ve got more to give.

Learning new things also gives you that Aha! moment. The ‘wow, I didn’t know that, how cool!’ that keeps life interesting and surprising.

2. You Can Develop Your Natural Talents

We all have our own unique, natural talents. It’s our PURPOSE in life to find out what those talents are, develop them and use them to make the world a little bit brighter.

To find out what your natural talents are, you have to try a wide range of activities and explore a wide range of topics.

School teaches us lots of important things, but if your natural talent doesn’t fall within the narrow syllabus, school is not going to help you develop that talent.

This is why lifelong learning outside the mainstream education system is just as important as what you learn in school.

3. Adaptability

There’s only one constant in life, and that’s change.

You’re better able to adapt to change if you are open to learning new things, adopting new ways of doing things and increasing the depth and breadth of your skills and knowledge.

4. Employability

Gone are the days when you have one job or one career for life.

The average person can have between 12-15 jobs in their lifetime. If you’re Gen Y or younger, then that number could be a lot higher!

In an uncertain working environment, learning new skills gives you the flexibility to find a new job, possibly in a new industry, more easily.

Up-skilling also helps you go further in your career path and allows you to more easily negotiate pay rises.

5. Wisdom

I once read a great quote that said:

Wisdom is knowing the right action at the right time and in the right measure.

(possibly from Aristotle, or about Aristotle, but it’s not in my personal knowledge tool, so I don’t remember)

We all hope we get a little wiser with age. Continually learning new things expands our wisdom while keeping our brains young and agile.

How to Foster Lifelong Learning

To adopt lifelong learning, you need a mindset that acknowledges there’s always something new to learn and the drive to continually seek out new knowledge and experiences.

I love the story of the philosopher and author Umberto Eco, who was said to have a library of books he hadn’t read yet. He called it his ‘anti-library’, and it served as a reminder that there is always something new to learn.

At its core, lifelong learning is about embracing curiosity, staying open to new ideas, and actively seeking opportunities for personal and intellectual growth – I’ll give you specific ways to do this below.

1. Seek Learning Opportunities

I should probably say ‘open yourself up’ to learning opportunities because those opportunities are everywhere.

Every moment is a potential learning experience. You just have to recognise it for what it is. We can grow a little wiser when we listen to a friend or deal with a tantruming toddler; when we negotiate with a difficult colleague, read a book, take a course, or even scroll through Facebook.

At the beginning of the year, we looked at setting goals. Make learning something new a goal for each and every year.

“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” 

George Whitman

2. Be Curious

Never stop asking why.

Or how.

Or when, where, who and what for.

Young kids are passionate learners. They’re constantly asking questions. And they’re never satisfied with ‘I don’t know.’

At some point, we become a little jaded and lose that sense of awe.

Everything is amazing, and nothing is boring when you reignite your natural curiosity.

3. Read (and Listen and Watch)

Lifelong learners are voracious readers. Or workshop takers. Or YouTube watchers. Or podcast listeners.

There’s a whole universe of knowledge between the covers of a book.

(Not to mention infinite alternate realities).

A book (or video or podcast etc) is a direct line to what others have learned before us. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Read the book, listen to the talk, and watch the demonstration about how the wheel was invented.

4. Apply What You Learn

Reading is good, but learning happens when we actually apply our knowledge.

You could read a dozen books or watch a dozen YouTube videos on how to play the guitar, but you’re never going to learn to do it until you pick up the thing and practice.

Give what you’ve learnt a go. Teach someone what you’ve learned. Journal about it. Write it in a letter. Call home and tell your mum. Experiment. Practice. Apply.

5. Try New Things

Lifelong learners try new things. It might be trying to unravel quantum physics one day and then learning how to grow the best tomatoes on another day.

Take a class. There are lots available online for free (which is a whole other article).

Start a new hobby.

Be bold and step out of your comfort zone.

In a rapidly evolving world, where new technologies, ideas, and paradigms emerge constantly, embracing lifelong learning becomes not just an option but a necessity.

We don’t stop learning when school is over. The happiest and most successful people embrace a growth mindset. Learning is a lifelong passion and an opportunity to continually grow and improve and discover something new and fascinating.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

Albert Einstein

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