Most people associate learning with formal education at school, college, university etc. We are all told, from an early age, that we should ‘get a good education’.
Generally speaking it is true that a formal education and the resulting qualifications are important. Education may maximise our potential to find better, more satisfying jobs, earn more and, perhaps, become more successful in our chosen career.
However, ‘schooling’ is only one type of learning. There are many other opportunities to further your knowledge and develop the skills you need throughout life.
Knowledge can be acquired and skill-sets developed anywhere – learning is unavoidable and happens all the time. However, lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning both for personal and professional development.
Lifelong learners are motivated to learn and develop because they want to: it is a deliberate and voluntary act.
Lifelong learning can enhance our understanding of the world around us, provide us with more and better opportunities and improve our quality of life.
There are two main reasons for learning throughout life: for personal development and for professional development. These reasons may not necessarily be distinct as personal development can improve your employment opportunities and professional development can enable personal growth.
Learning for its own sake brings its own advantages. For example, learning in whatever context:
- Boosts our confidence and self-esteem
- Makes us less risk averse and more adaptable to change when it happens
- Helps us achieve a more satisfying personal life
- Challenges our ideas and beliefs
- Can be fun
Learning for Personal Development
There does not need to be a specific reason for learning since learning for the sake of learning can in itself be a rewarding experience.
There is a common view that continuous learning and having an active mind throughout life may delay or halt the progress of some forms of dementia, although there is actually very little scientific evidence to support these claims. However, keeping the brain active does have advantages since learning can prevent you from becoming bored and thus enable a more fulfilling life at any age.
There are, of course, many reasons why people learn for personal development.
- You may want to increase your knowledge or skills around a particular hobby or pastime that you enjoy.
- Perhaps you want to develop some entirely new skill that will in some way enhance your life – take a pottery or car mechanic course for example.
- Perhaps you want to research a medical condition or your ancestry.
- Perhaps you’re planning a trip and want to learn more about the history and culture of your destination.
- Maybe you will decide to take a degree course later in life simply because you enjoy your chosen subject and the challenges of academic study.
Learning for Professional Development
Our capacity to earn is directly related to our willingness to learn.
Being well-educated is not necessarily the key to employment.
Although qualifications may get you an interview, actually getting the job can take a lot more.
Employers are looking for well-balanced people with transferable skills. This includes the ability to be able to demonstrate that you are keen to learn and develop.
If you do find yourself unemployed then use the time wisely. Learning something new can pay-off with new opportunities which might not otherwise have arisen.
While you are employed, take advantage of training, coaching or mentoring opportunities and work on your continuous professional development as you will likely become better at what you do and more indispensable to your current or future employer.
Putting the time in for extra learning brings its own rewards.
It means we can get more personal satisfaction from our lives and jobs as we understand more about who we are and what we do. This can lead to better results and a more rewarding working day in turn. If you choose to learn about another complementary sector, this enables opportunities to specialise and potentially earn more or move to a connected industry. In turn this gives us wider experience on which to build our knowledge and more transferable skills in readiness for your next move.
From a financial point of view, a more highly skilled and knowledgeable worker is an asset to any company and can lead to faster promotion with associated salary increases.
Someone who can offer more expertise will be of more value not just to employers but also to customers. Expertise is also, often, a key quality of an effective leader.
If you are frustrated with your job, continuing to hone your skills will make it easier to find new ways out of a potentially stressful work situation. Keeping an open mind to learning and giving yourself room for flexibility is key to job satisfaction. Furthermore, potentially staying ahead of competitors for jobs by being more experienced or knowledgeable can give you an edge.
MASTER your Learning
In his book, Master it Faster, Colin Rose uses the mnemonic MASTER to describe the six stages he believes are key to becoming an effective learner. These stages can be applied to any type of learning, either formal or informal.
Lifelong learning requires self-motivation. You need to feel positive about learning and about your ability to learn. If you struggle to see the point of learning what you are learning, you are unlikely to do well.
See our page Self-Motivation for more.
Effective learning requires that you acquire information through reading, listening, observing, practising, experimenting and experience. Information is all around you: the trick is to acquire relevant and meaningful information and develop this into knowledge and skills.
See our Study Skills section for more on effective learning techniques.
Learning is successful when we can search for a personal meaning in the information we’re acquiring. We find it hard to remember facts without understanding them or being able to put them into context.
Learning is about applying what you acquire and asking yourself questions such as: ‘How does this idea help in my life?’ or ‘What has this experience taught me about myself?’
Human beings are notoriously bad at retaining information. You cannot and will not remember all that you read, hear and experience. You can help to trigger recollection in a variety of ways. For example, you can take notes, practice, discuss and experiment with new ideas and skills to help you learn and develop.
Our pages on Note-Taking may help here.
You should regularly examine your knowledge to help reinforce in your mind what you have learned. You should always try to keep an open-mind, question your understanding and be open to new information.
Talking to others and seeing their point of view can be a powerful way of examining your own perception and understanding of a subject.
Finally, you should reflect on your learning. Think about how and why you learned, including how you felt about a particular topic or situation, before and after you developed your knowledge.
Learn from your mistakes as well as from your successes and always try to remain positive.
See our page on Reflective Practice for more.
Learning Gives You Options
The bottom line is that, whatever your life path, there are a number of sometimes unanticipated benefits to continual personal and professional development.
Whatever your age, it's never too late to start.
Successfully changing career path in mid-life and spending time informally developing expertise is more common than ever, especially during rapidly changing market conditions.
Most people still rely on succeeding in employment for their ability to earn a living. The more flexible we can be about our direction, the easier we make our lives.
Our economy is shifting increasingly towards short-term and part-time contracts with more flexible work-patterns whilst old industries are shifting abroad. We have to adapt to changes going on in the work-world and make more of ourselves by stepping out of our comfort zones and ideas of how we believe our life is going.
Relying on job permanence for earnings and promotion is not as feasible as it once was.
Because of work-life instability, more people of all ages are turning their hobby into a business idea. Continually following one’s passion outside of work hours can lead you to get paid for doing what you love, and typically you will develop business and other transferable skills as you go along until the point that you can delegate your least favourite jobs.