The first 22 or so years of our lives are consumed by education. Our full time job is to learn as much as we can about the world around us and narrow our focus on a specific area that we hopefully will turn into a career. But once we’re launched into the real world, this commitment to continuing our education seems to wane. As we spend more and more time applying the knowledge we have, we have less and less time for seeking out additional education. Slowly but surely, our wealth of knowledge begins to depreciate as it becomes outdated and incomplete.
With the types of resources we have available right at our fingertips, this should never be the case. We always have the opportunity to better ourselves through lifelong learning even if we feel we have no time or money to do so. It’s possible – and paramount – to developing both our career and our character. Here are a few critical questions we must first ask ourselves if we want to assume the mindset of a lifelong learner.
When did we decide to stop learning?
Doesn’t it seem unbalanced that we rely upon the education we gain during the first quarter of our lives to last us for the other three-quarters? This is a common idea that society has made acceptable. Maybe it’s because we’re so overloaded with school, classes, exams and essays that when we earn a degree we want to wash our hands of this part of our life completely – never wanting to return to the anxiety and challenge that often accompanies it. The shame is that this is such a small part of what learning truly is. Learning need not be defined by a classroom, diploma or grades. The decision to start learning again doesn’t mean having to enroll in a graduate program. The options for how we can do so are virtually limitless, but first we must change our definition of learning.
How do we change our definition of learning?
It doesn’t require a classroom setting to enhance your education. In fact, most of what we’ve learned throughout our lives was from observing other people or through trial and error. So throw away the notion that night classes are the only way to re-educate yourself. Technology has also drastically changed the learning opportunities available to us for free and from home. College-level courses are available at all hours of the day and in increments that can fit into any schedule. This type of learning may not earn you a formal degree, but unless your career field has a proven return on investment for additional degrees, don’t take on that unnecessary debt. Rather, informal and free courses are just as effective at achieving the ultimate goal…a lifelong education.
Will lifelong learning really make a difference?
Yes. Making the commitment to learn throughout all quarters of your life – not just your first – will have a great impact on both your career and your character. It will keep you competitive in today’s job market. With the ever-changing face of technology, we don’t have the luxury of relying on what we learned decades ago to get us through the job we have now. Even more mind boggling is that for many of us, the job we will have 5 years from now likely doesn’t even exist yet! If you want to increase your value as an employee (and secure your job for the future), lifelong learning is a must. Also, the more you know the more interesting you tend to be. Did you ever know someone who could start a conversation with just about anyone? It’s likely that this person was well-educated and continued his education throughout his life. You want to be that person, too. Finally, lifelong learning will make you independent. The more you know how to do on your own, the less you will feel inferior or helpless. You will be able to trouble-shoot your own problems and work more efficiently as a result. There’s many more compelling reasons why each of us should become a lifelong learner, but I think I’ve made my point.
To end, I will leave you with this interesting quote from Robert Heinlein:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Resources for lifelong learning:
Coursera. Coursera works with top universities from around the world to offer classes online for free.
OpenStudy. OpenStudy is a social learning network that allows you to connect with individuals who have the same learning goals as you.
edX. Harvard University and MIT partnered together to create interactive, free online courses. The same world-renowned professors that teach at Harvard and MIT have created the courses on edX.
Udacity. More college level classes taught online for free.
CreativeLive. CreativeLive lets you stream live courses being taught for free (if you want to view the course later there is a fee). The courses focus on more creative and business subjects.
TED. TED compiles speeches and lectures from professors as well as interesting people from many different walks of life. This is a staple for lifelong learners! (And they tend to be far more interesting and entertaining that the college lectures you remember)
iTunes U. iTunes U has thousands of free downloadable podcast lectures taught by the best professors from around the world. Learn while you exercise or on a long road trip.
YouTube EDU. Addicted to YouTube? Put it to good use by enriching your mind with thousands of videos that cover a variety of topics.