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How to Be a Lifelong Learner

Finishing school shouldn't be the end of your education. Keep your mind active by staying interested in the things around you.

Finishing school shouldn't be the end of your education. Keep your mind active by staying interested in the things around you.

What Is a Lifelong Learner?

A lifelong learner is someone who pursues learning throughout life, no matter the time or setting. This learning may take place in a classroom, training session, at home, on the road, in nature, alone, with other people, or in nearly any other situation that may arise. There's almost always something to learn if you choose to be a student of your surroundings.

All you need is a sense of curiosity about the world around you—and some time to think and perhaps do a little research.

Why Would I Want to Be a Lifelong Learner?

In addition to simply wanting to know how things (devices, systems, people, etc.) work, there are many other reasons to be a lifelong learner. A short list of examples includes:

  • People who tend to be more interested in the things around them are often more interesting to other people. This can give you the opportunity to lead by example.
  • People who are more knowledgeable are usually more valuable to their employers. Companies want people who make the effort to better themselves. They make better employees and can contribute to the company's success in a variety of ways.
  • The knowledge and experience gained by being a lifelong learner can make someone a better member of their community. They have a better understanding of the issues and can help improve the conditions around them.
  • People who keep learning throughout life are able to be more independent. They know how to do things, how to figure things out, and how to resolve (and avoid) problems.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

— Albert Einstein

How Do I Become a Lifelong Learner?

There are many ways to continue learning throughout life. Nearly every situation you encounter is a potential learning experience.

The key is to stay curious! As long as you continue to have thoughts that start with “I wonder...” and act on those thoughts, you'll continue to learn. Wondering is great, but you won't learn learn much if you don't take action.

1. Take a Class

There are many types of classes available. They may be online, in a formal classroom setting, one-on-one tutoring, on recorded video or audio, by correspondence, or other sources. Classes can lead to:

  • New friends
  • New skills
  • New opportunities
  • Greater appreciation of a particular subject
  • Certifications
  • Degrees
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • Many more questions

Formal schooling is not the only source of learning; it may not be the best source for some things. There are many other sources of knowledge and wisdom. Experience and exposure to many different things can teach more than many classroom environments.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

— Mark Twain

2. Read

Reading is a simple and inexpensive way to learn. In this connected age, there are interesting and useful things to read on-line for little or no cost. There are also public libraries, book stores, magazines, and more.

I try to read a mixture of non-fiction and fiction books. For non-fiction, I like to read about leaders of different types, usually U.S. Presidents or military leaders and scientists. These types of books help give me some insight into the thought process behind key decisions. Since these are histories, I can see how their decisions turned out.

I have noticed that many of these presidents and military leaders were themselves very well-read. For example, after the British burned Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his library of 6,000 books to the Library of Congress to restart the library.

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You can learn from reading fiction as well as non-fiction. Non-fiction can help expand your imagination and expose you to new ideas that may never have occurred to you.

3. Pay Attention to the News and Current Events

Access a variety of news sources, including ones that you don't necessarily agree with. If you only view news sources that support your own opinions, you won't be exposed to other points of view that you might not otherwise have considered. There are always at least two, and often many more, ways to look at a situation. Considering alternate views, even if you ultimately reject them, is a learning opportunity.

4. Watch Educational Television

Even though the majority of television is a mindless wasteland, there are some shows that offer interesting and educational entertainment. Stay away from the "reality TV" shows, which are often nothing more than highly scripted soap operas. Unfortunately, more and more of these shows are appearing on channels that should have higher standards than that.

There are still shows that are worth watching. You can learn a lot from "Nova", "Modern Marvels", "Mail Call", "Aerial America", or an all-night marathon of "How It's Made" or "Dirty Jobs".

5. Teach

One way to learn a subject thoroughly is to teach it to another person. This forces you to understand the subject at a much deeper level. Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to answer the questions that are sure to be asked.

Docendo discimus. (While we teach, we learn.)

— Seneca the Younger

What Should I Learn?

There's an incredible variety of things to learn about. Start by asking yourself, “What do I find interesting?” Things that you find interesting are the best places to start. Since you're already interested in the subject, it's likely that you'll learn quickly and have fun doing so.

New Things You Could Learn to Do

  • Cooking – Learn to make interesting and nutritious meals.
  • Music lessons – Learning to play a musical instrument could be a rewarding experience.
  • Arts and crafts – Learn woodworking, sewing, model making, painting, photography, calligraphy, or another interesting art or craft. You can have a new hobby as well as possible income source.
  • Computers – Computers are part of our everyday lives. Learn more about them. You could learn to write programs, create web pages, edit photos, use office productivity applications, and more.

New Things You Could Learn to Be

  • A better version of yourself – Work on your self-development. This includes your self-knowledge, self-awareness, leadership, talents, and potential. All of these things can be improved through learning.
  • A more confident person – Take a public speaking course or classes in one of the martial arts. Even a good level of general knowledge can help you be confident in your opinions.
  • A good citizen – An educated citizen is a good citizen. Understanding what is happening in your neighborhood, city, state, country, and world prepares you to make choices that are in the best interests of everyone.

New Things You Could Learn to Know

  • Science – An understanding of science helps you know how things work and interact. There's far more to it than memorizing facts and figures. Science put into practice can be fun as well as educational.
  • Nature – The natural world is full of fascinating things. Even today, new species of plants and animals are still being discovered! Whether you're interested in plants, animals, geology, astronomy, history, or the future, nature plays a role in it. Don't forget that people are part of nature. Even though we live in cities, and use amazing technology in our everyday lives, we still share one planet with all the other inhabitants of Earth.
  • Math – Math is at the root of most of science and nature. It describes how the world works at the smallest and largest scales and everything in between. It describes the orbits of planets as well as electrons; the curve of a cannonball as well as the curve of seeds on a sunflower. Math tells us how thick the steel in a bridge needs to be as well as how thin the plastic in a milk jug can be. The more you learn about math, the more places you'll see it.
  • History – History can help explain how things came to be the way they are now. You hear references to historical events every day. Knowing history helps you better understand why things are the way they are.
  • Art/Music appreciation – There must be a reason why some art and music is still being appreciated centuries after being created. Learning more about these can give you an understanding of their staying power. Whether or not Ice T. and N.W.A. will still have fans 200 years from now is questionable, but it's likely that Bethoven and Mozart will still be around.

Don't Stop Learning

Learning throughout life is a way to stay interested and interesting. There are so many fascinating things around us, how could anyone not want to know more?

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.

— Henry Ford

© 2015 Ron Bergeron

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