Lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons” – the idea that expanding your mind and developing new skills should continue throughout your life.
From an early age we are told to get a good education in order to succeed in life. We all associate education with school and college or university – but then a lot of us think learning stops, and society drives us that way too. We need to change that thinking, so that older adults benefit from continuing the learning process.
- learning how to use a new app or piece of software
- learning how to cook something new
- learning how to communicate in a committee or voluntary organisation
- learning a new language, musical instrument or sport
We can improve this process by recognising lifelong learning as an attitude to cultivate, explore, even live by. Sometimes people stop educating themselves because they are too caught up with life and they are not willing to make time for self-education. They don’t see it as something important. This post will explain why you need to be a lifelong learner – to show you the importance of lifelong learning
Reasons for lifelong learning
Personal development and professional development are the two main reasons for lifelong learning. As my blog is written for retirees, the professional benefits of lifelong learning are less relevant. For good or ill, our careers are over, professional life is gone and no further progress is desired, necessary or available. In other words, you can forget what you learnt as a lawyer, doctor, salesperson or however you spent your working life. But learning new skills is important in retirement, for your own mental wellbeing.
6 benefits of learning in later life
If you’re still not convinced that lifelong learning can improve your overall quality of life here are five benefits of lifelong learning for seniors.
- lifelong learning can renew self-motivation. Sometimes we fall into a rut when we are constantly doing things just because we think we have to do them. Things like cleaning the house or shopping are mandatory chores we constantly believe are expected of us. They are necessary – but it can feel like every day is the same. When you’re learning through self-education you’re going to be learning something you actually want to learn. This will serve as a good reminder that you can still achieve the things in life that you aspire to – having a positive mental attitude is key to a successful retirement..
- You get to discover your personal interests. In this day and age information is everywhere. You can learn anything you want with the internet. By spending some time studying something you’re curious about, you can find out whether it interests you or not. . By opening your mind to new interests life will be more interesting and it may open future opportunities.
- Your self-confidence improves. Being more knowledgeable and skilled in various areas can improve your self-confidence. Improving yourself can lead to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from growing as a person. You can be proud of your skills due to the time and effort you spent learning to develop them. And you can impress your friends and family with your new found knowledge, understanding and outlook on life.
- Lifelong learning can challenge your ideas and beliefs. We all have prejudices and beliefs that are wrong or outdated.. For example you might not realize how important mental health is but when you start learning about self-development you realize that mental health is a very important issue at any age. If you’re not engaging in lifelong learning you’ll never have the opportunity to see different viewpoints.
- Learning throughout your life can keep the brain active, stimulated, engaged and inquiring. A Mayo Clinic study found that lifelong learning is associated with a delay in the onset of age-related mental decline.
- Intellectual wellness can help your brain generate new neurons (the cells that send information to your entire body) and create new neuron connections. This impacts memory, attention, thinking, language and reasoning skills.
How to practice lifelong learning?
- Read widely and often
- Get others involved – choose a skill you want to learn and invite someone to learn it alongside you.
- Keep a list of things you want to explore
- Start your own project (like a blog!)
- Experiment with new ways to learn
- Teach others
- Join a study group or a local U3A
Going back to college
You would think that the wider education community would have a vested interest in encouraging lifelong learning – a whole section of society from whom they could garner enrolments (and of course funding).
In the UK at least this doesn’t seem to be the case. A quick survey of colleges and the local university suggests no help or encouragement for older learners at all. It is possible to get a student loan at age 60+ but expect some detailed questions regarding repayment!
At our education establishments, courses are designed for post-school study. Images feature only young people and their course descriptions are geared toward gaining a qualifcation and career progression. No mention of learning for the joy of studying a subject – which is a shame because a mature student in a class could provide a completely different perspective in discussion periods.
A thirst for knowledge thoughout your life can only bring benefits. Like the rest of your body, the brain needs to be exercised to keep it active. By adopting an attitude of learning for the sake of it, you will improve your mental health and outlook on life. Learning can be a key factor in aging well.