No matter what stage of life you’re in or how much you already know, the reality is that there’s always something new to learn. Be it a new hobby, a practical skill, or some other form of knowledge, maintaining a growth mindset and going out of your way to learn new things will serve you well in life.
So, what exactly does the concept of lifelong learning mean, and why does it matter? With a better understanding of what lifelong learning entails and the many benefits it can offer, perhaps you could find greater motivation to acquire new knowledge or skills in the coming year.
What Is Lifelong Learning?
While there is no universal definition of lifelong learning, this generally refers to the concept that there is always something new to be learned—regardless of whether it’s for personal fulfillment or professional development and career advancement. The idea behind lifelong learning is that, even once your days of formal education are complete, it’s worthwhile to pursue more knowledge and skills with each passing year.
In other words, lifelong learners never consider their education truly complete. Lifelong learners are not complacent; they’re always seeking new ways to explore novel concepts, pursue new hobbies, and improve themselves.
Of course, this is not to say that lifelong learning cannot include formal education. From childhood curiosity to formal schooling to returning to school for an advanced degree, any and all forms of education certainly apply to the idea of lifelong learning.
What does lifelong learning look like in action? Examples may include:
- Learning how to use a new technology
- Exploring a new sport or physical activity (like taking up running)
- Acquiring a new skill (like cooking or sewing)
- Pursuing self-taught studies (like teaching yourself a new language)
- Pursuing any other newly acquired knowledge as a self-interest (including formal education and online courses taken for professional or personal development)
Why Is Lifelong Learning Important?
Committing to a lifetime of ongoing learning is important for a number of reasons. For starters, when you always have something new to learn or pursue, you can maintain a sense of motivation to become a more well-rounded person. Likewise, lifelong learning can help with your professional and personal development, empowering you to explore and uncover new insights about yourself.
In many ways, lifelong learning can fuel you to always strive to be better, improving your quality of life while boosting your own sense of self-worth. This, in turn, can rub off on others around you, inspiring your loved ones to do better for themselves.
Benefits of Being a Lifelong Learner
There are various benefits of lifelong learning you and those in your life can begin enjoying when you commit to a permanent growth mindset. These advantages range from professional or career advancement to increased confidence, personal growth, and a greater sense of versatility.
In many cases, lifelong learners go out of their way to acquire new skills as a means of growing professionally. For example, there may be a promotion or more advanced position available at your workplace—but you might currently lack the formal education or specific skills needed to qualify for this type of role.
As a lifelong learner, however, you might decide to return to school for a degree or certificate that would provide you with the necessary foundational skills and knowledge to qualify for a higher-ranked position and allow you to pursue your interests along the way. From there, you’d have the opportunity to move up the career ladder while potentially improving your earnings and quality of life in the process.
Increased Confidence and Motivation
Dedicating yourself to continuous learning and maintaining a growth mindset can also have a direct impact on your self-confidence and overall sense of motivation. When you become more knowledgeable about a particular area or learn a new skill, you may feel more confident about your abilities in your personal and professional life.
In addition, lifelong learning can offer more motivation to explore different concepts and try new things you might not have otherwise considered. This sense of motivation can carry over into other areas of your life, allowing you to apply your newfound skills and knowledge to accomplish more than you thought possible.
If you’re feeling a bit bored or like your life is too monotonous, this is a great time to hone in on your lifelong learning efforts. Take some time to reflect on activities and types of information that sincerely interest, inspire, or motivate you. From there, you might discover the desire to learn a new skill, take on a new hobby, or pursue a higher level of knowledge about a particular topic.
Allowing yourself to pursue what really fascinates you is the key to long-term personal growth. In doing so, you’ll likely find that life is more interesting and exciting.
The more you learn, the more versatile and well-rounded a person you become. Being adaptable and flexible is incredibly valuable: With a wide range of marketable skills and interests, not only may you have an easier time connecting with people and cultivating new friendships, but you may also enjoy more professional opportunities throughout your career.
Early Years of Learning
The growth mindset and desire for ongoing learning typically begin at a young age in the critical formative years of childhood. During this time, childhood curiosity is at its peak. Everything is still new and fresh to the young, developing mind—and even the most seemingly ordinary of experiences (such as a trip to the grocery store or a run through the car wash) can lead to lasting interests and passions.
Throughout these early years of learning, formal educational experiences are perhaps just as crucial as at-home learning experiences. Children should be encouraged to ask questions and explore their interests in order to keep the desire for new knowledge growing. This foundational education plays such an essential role in shaping a lifelong learner and should not be overlooked.
Formal Education: School and University
During the years of a person’s formal education, educational milestones and achievements (along with challenges and setbacks) continue to shape the evolution of learning preferences. For most learners, the formal education years span somewhere from about age five to 18. For those who pursue a college education, though, the formal education years may extend well into their 20s or beyond.
Around this time, most learners begin to understand where their interests and passions lie as well as how these may align with future career goals. The formal education years are also critical for understanding learning preferences and how each person has their own unique learning style that works best for them.
Upon completing formal education, whether that concludes with a high school diploma or a college degree, the learning phase of professional development is the next logical progression. At this point, a person transitions from academic to professional learning, which may include on-the-job training experiences and skill development.
This is also a common time for people to pursue additional degrees or certificates with the goal of career advancement. Oftentimes, these new skills still align with personal interests, so this could be both a form of professional and personal development (though this is not always the case).
Personal Learning Projects
Throughout life, many people embark on personal learning projects unrelated to their professional interests or careers. Frequently, these manifest in the form of hobbies, which serve as ideal avenues for continuous learning. Some examples of personal learning projects may include independent study and self-directed hobbies, like learning to crochet or produce music.
One of the biggest challenges lifelong learners tend to face here is simply trying to balance their personal and professional development goals. The demands of a career may make it difficult to find time for personal development, yet maintaining hobbies and exploring personal learning projects is key to a person’s overall self-esteem, motivation, and satisfaction in life.
Practical Habits to Foster Lifelong Learning
Wondering how you can pursue a lifetime of learning while balancing the demands of personal and professional life? Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:
- Cultivating a growth mindset – This may mean taking the time to write down a physical list of what you’re interested in learning or the skills you’d like to acquire.
- Welcoming new challenges and taking ownership of your future – This means understanding that obstacles will arise and the path to your learning goals may not always be linear. However, the key is to push on and make progress however you can, even if it’s little by little.
- Nurturing passions and curiosity – Allow yourself to be curious about anything and everything while embracing your passions without judgment.
- Incorporating regular reading and time management skills – Finding time for learning isn’t always easy, so building and practicing time management skills to help you work learning into your busy schedule is a must.
Mentors and Lifelong Learning
Finally, it never hurts to have a mentor you can rely on for guidance and motivation along your lifelong learning journey. This could be a personal or professional mentor, as long as it’s someone you can trust to provide sound advice and encourage you to always do better. A mentor can also help you stay accountable on your path to learning new things.
Celebrating Success as a Lifelong Learner
When you really boil down the idea of lifelong learning, it’s easy to recognize that everybody is a lifelong learner. Whether you’re learning to use a new-to-you technology or pursuing an advanced degree, it’s thanks to an innate, human curiosity and desire to learn. When we embrace that curiosity with a positive attitude, we open ourselves to a growth mindset that can be genuinely life-changing.
If you’re interested in returning to school, be it to build upon an existing degree or explore a new field entirely, Johnson & Wales University’s College of Professional Studies is here to help. We offer a wide selection of degree programs, ranging from associate and bachelor’s degrees to master’s degrees, a doctoral degree, and even online certificate and micro-certificate programs. No matter where your interests may lie, JWU is sure to provide a program in which you can explore your interests and pursue new knowledge in a supportive environment.