At this time of year, I hear a common refrain in the hallways of schools: “School is going to be out soon, I have nothing to learn all summer” or “I graduated, I don’t never have to go to class again.” I get it. Getting rid of the weight of rigid schedules, homework and tests has its call, and this time of year can be pretty darn exciting.
That said, I hope the excitement of summer vacation or graduation (or retirement, for that matter) doesn’t cloud our perspective on learning. I hope our students (and all of us) will find learning to be a lifelong endeavor filled with joy and excitement. The fact is that we are always learning new things. As adults, our jobs change and we learn new responsibilities and systems. If we discover a new hobby, don’t we immerse ourselves in learning the right way to do it?
And young people, who think they stop learning at the end of school, surely recognize that when the last phone or computer comes out, they are the first to learn it and understand it backwards. When they go to summer camp, won’t they learn to canoe or rock climb? By moving away from home, won’t they learn to cook?
There is no standard definition of lifelong learning, but it is generally accepted that it refers to learning that occurs outside of what we think of as formal education. He is self-motivated, self-initiated and, at times, self-taught; it is voluntary. You become a lifelong learner because you want to acquire knowledge and skills when, where and how. The goal? Personal achievement. Perhaps you will be energized by understanding auto repair. Maybe it brings you joy to learn a trade. Maybe you just find yourself interested in topics, activities, or issues that you want to learn more about.
Whatever the reason, lifelong learning is not only rewarding, but according to the research I’ve reviewed, it has real benefits.
• Brain health: Recent research has shown that learning allows brain cells to function at optimal levels, which can help maintain cognitive function and memory.
• Link: Many forms of adult education allow you to meet new people and connect with current events and ideas. It’s a great way to make friends and avoid disconnecting.
• Fulfillment: It helps us open our minds and gain wisdom — things that can help us make the world, or our neighborhood, a better place.
JAdditional benefits of learning later in life include increased competence and confidence, a sense of purpose and satisfaction, and the ability to adapt more easily to change and overcome challenges.
The avenues for lifelong learning come in many forms, and not just in a classroom. You might just be invigorated by learning with others. Check out classes or study groups at your local museum or library. Research adult education courses offered by your city, high school, or college. The truth is, you can find forums online, with discussions and information sharing with others, for almost any interest, from foreign languages to flying an airplane. If you’re good at learning on your own, consult an instruction book or check out an online course.
Specialty stores like knitting stores or tech stores often offer classes or know of local groups that welcome newcomers. Heck, start your own club and bring like-minded learners together.
As we look to the end of the school year and graduation, I hope we will remember that learning makes life a greater adventure and that every day gives us the opportunity to stretch mind, to challenge ourselves and to do something new. That’s exciting !