Continuing education is vital to earning potential and career advancement, but did you know that the practice of lifelong learning offers benefits for your personal well-being as well as your job performance?
According to Valamis, an online learning platform, “Lifelong learning is a form of self-initiated education that is focused on personal development.”
It can be as simple as reaching out to a mentor for advice, taking a Saturday morning pottery class, or tuning into a favorite podcast on any given topic that interests you. As award-winning educator AnnaMaria Romero-Lehrer describes it, lifelong learning is the practice of “fully participating in the world around you.”
All you need to be a lifelong learner is a healthy dose of curiosity and a commitment to take small steps that can lead to incremental gains. Lifelong learning isn’t about mastering any one endeavor; it’s about enjoying the process along the way.
Jeff Cobb, founder of the blog Mission to Learn, outlines a few of the powerful and transformative benefits of lifelong learning. For one, Cobb believes there are intellectual benefits to the practice. It’s not only that you’re learning something new and increasing your knowledge, but it’s also the fact that you can “use that knowledge in diverse and meaningful ways,” explains Cobb.
Romero-Lehrer confirms this assertion. In her Tedx Hampstead talk, she explains that she set out to build her daughters a new swing set because she knew how to sew. That may seem like a stretch, but as she puts it, the principles of measuring, cutting, and piecing together that are used in sewing can be applied to construction. These seemingly disparate tasks connected in her mind because she was applying the knowledge she already had in a similar way in order to achieve a different result. Genius.
According to Cobb, lifelong learning offers cognitive benefits that can keep you at the top of your mental A-game as well. “Each and every time we learn something new our brain forms new connections and neurons and makes existing neural pathways stronger or weaker,” says Christa Sterling from the Office of Continuing Education at Central Connecticut State University. “Some experts call these changes ‘plasticity’ in the brain,” she adds.
This ability to re-wire is what allows the human brain to develop throughout life. “The more you learn, the more your brain will change and the more ‘plastic’ it will be,” says Cobb. This improves all cognitive functions including attention, memory, language, problem-solving, and decision-making.
Cobb says that learning also feeds the spirit. “It gives us purpose, it gives us focus, it fuels our sense of fulfillment,” he adds. This benefit stems from the fact that lifelong learning is a voluntary activity that is self-motivated and based on our own personal interests and personal development. There are no external factors dictating what and when we need to learn. Instead, we embark on these journeys because we have a passion or curiosity for those particular skills, activities, topics, or technologies.
The social interactions we enjoy as a result of these discoveries are highly beneficial. As outlined in this article of Development Digest, the stronger we bond with others, the more we thrive. In the study, Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD found that the quality and quantity of social relationships is linked with mental health, physical health, and mortality.
And here’s the really interesting part. Focusing on yourself can actually lead you to be better at work. Lifelong learning is a vital part of self-care that enriches our lives and bolsters how we define ourselves. The confidence and skills we gain from our learning experiences spills over into how we approach our work, which Valamis asserts can enhance our “…interpersonal skills, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, reflection, adaptability and much more” in the office.