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The Power of Lifelong Learning: What is it and Why is it Important?

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When did you last enjoy the satisfaction of learning something new? If this isn't a daily or weekly phenomenon, you're missing out—and you might be compromising your career. Thankfully, it is possible to integrate learning into your day-to-day life, as we see below.

What Is Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning involves ongoing academic pursuits that continue long after young adulthood. Under this approach, learning is entirely voluntary. This obviously differs from high school, where learning—or at least attendance—is required. But it also stands separate from the stereotypical view of college in which students focus exclusively on school in their late teens and early 20s before leaving it behind for good.

Under a lifelong model, learning cannot and should not conclude after graduating with a bachelor's or master's degree, nor should it occur exclusively with the intention of landing a specific type of job. Lifelong learning means that academic discovery is the goal in and of itself.

Why Is Lifelong Learning Important?

Take a close look at the average lifespan and the 'typical' academic trajectory, and you'll see a sharp divide. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports a life expectancy of 78.7 years for U.S. residents, but the majority of students still attend college in their late teens and early 20s. If they follow the 'expected' path, they could spend five or even six decades of their life without any concerted effort at obtaining further education. During that time, the skills and knowledge gained previously may be forgotten or outdated.

The need for lifelong learning may seem obvious from a professional standpoint, but it also holds personal implications. Ongoing mental stimulation is important for cognitive and emotional health. This is true at all ages but is especially evident among seniors. Research suggests that, as we age, a commitment to learning can limit the potential for memory loss and may even help to prevent concerns such as dementia.

What Are the Benefits of Lifelong Learning?

A wide array of benefits can accompany lifelong learning. This pursuit is beneficial for not only your professional development, but your personal development and emotional wellbeing. Top advantages include:

1. Finding New Areas of Passion

Lifelong learners are inquisitive, curious, and open to new ideas. As you take classes or explore new materials, you may be exposed to concepts that you might otherwise have never considered. Take this curiosity and uncover a new area of interest that ignites the passion for life you crave.

2. New Skill Development

A diverse skill set is imperative, especially as you attempt to transition to a new career path or secure a promotion. As a lifelong learner, you can gain a variety of useful abilities, such as mastery of new technology or clinical skills. You can also continue to develop soft skills such as verbal communication or problem-solving. These stand out on a resume and also make you more effective in everything from day-to-day work tasks to your favorite hobbies.

3. Keeping Up with the Latest Trends and Research

Research breakthroughs have shifted our understanding of virtually every field, thereby impacting how we operate across numerous sectors. This is exciting as it promotes a much-needed spirit of innovation as well as greater productivity.

Unfortunately, the fast pace of research means that it's easy to fall behind. If you're committed to continuous learning, however, you will be exposed to information about the latest developments. No matter how long you've been in the workforce, you can feel confident in knowing that you're up to date. This, combined with years of experience, will make you a compelling employee as you continue to climb the career ladder.

4. Improving Cognitive Health

As mentioned previously, a growing body of research suggests that lifelong learning can be helpful for mitigating a variety of concerns in your personal life that often arrive with age. A report from the journal Neurology reveals that intellectual activity across the lifespan can lead to major delays in symptoms for conditions such as Alzheimer's.

Upon reviewing this study and recommending it for publication, Dr. David Knopman explained, "If two people had the same amount of Alzheimer’s pathology, and one...engaged in more cognitively stimulating activities, and one...didn’t participate in as many mentally stimulating activities, then the symptoms [of Alzheimer’s] would appear earlier in the person with less cognitively stimulating activity."

5. Enjoying the Personal Satisfaction of Learning Something New

There's no feeling quite like true mental stimulation. Novel stimuli, in particular, light up the brain's reward centers, leading to the swift release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. After years in the workforce, however, many of us forget the sheer joy of academic discovery. When we commit to lifelong learning, we enjoy more of the special moments when it all clicks—and we are flooded with a sense of understanding and appreciation.

Examples of Lifelong Learning

While lifelong learning has always been attainable, it's even more accessible in today's digital world. Finding the time and motivation can be tough, but the materials and resources themselves are wonderfully abundant. The following are just a few of the many opportunities that allow you to pursue your lifelong learning goals:

1. Academic Journals

These days, the pace of advancement is staggering in nearly every field. Typically, the most important developments are outlined in academic journals, which offer a close look at the latest studies as well as a glimpse at the future. Restriction to some academic journals may be limited, but many are available within college libraries or with open access aggregators such as COnnectng REpositories (CORE).

2. Blogs

Blogs cover the gamut from entertaining to educational. They are published by individuals who are eager to share their thoughts. Many are also produced by businesses, nonprofit organizations, and colleges. Not only are the blog posts themselves packed with information, but they often include links to online resources or lists of books and journals worth referencing.

3. Podcasts

When life gets busy, it can feel tempting to leave learning for later. Thankfully, many easy-to-access opportunities allow you to learn on the go. Podcasts, for example, provide intriguing information in a digestible format. They span every topic imaginable, with many produced by academic and professional leaders who are eager to share their expertise with the public. Many are short enough to enjoy during your daily commute or while running errands, but in-depth episodes and series are also in strong supply.

4. Documentaries

Known as an educational tool, documentaries provide a uniquely engaging means of diving into material that might otherwise not feel particularly compelling or relatable. These should be viewed with caution, however, as many include a clear angle, and some are far more reliable than others. When in doubt, look for documentaries recommended by college instructors, librarians, or other respected individuals who know which resources are the most reliable. You'll find many excellent documentaries at your local library, but you can also stream them on services such as Netflix, Hulu, and even YouTube.

5. Online Courses

Books, journals, and podcasts can be helpful, but they may not always provide the sense of direction that aspiring learners need. These resources may be more effective if integrated into a comprehensive system, such as an online course. The simple act of enrolling in higher education provides a burst of motivation, while a detailed curriculum offers structure and accountability. Most important, however, are the connections formed with instructors and fellow students who bring context to cement newfound knowledge as well as support when the going gets tough.

Start Your Journey Today

Are you committed to lifelong learning? Look to Bryant & Stratton for support as you embark on this exciting journey. Contact us today to learn more about our accredited online programs.


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