Back in the day of the one-room schoolhouse, getting an education meant going to school for a set number of years. Then your formal education was considered over and you were to spend the rest of your life working. And, what you earned, the thinking went, was in direct proportion to what you learned.
Today, thanks to the changing face of the modern classroom
—from online classes to on-the-job training to self-education—your education and learning opportunities are limitless, no matter your age or social status.
If you want to realize your greatest potential, adopt a mindset of lifelong learning and keep practicing. Here are some ways to do it.
Adopt a grow-and-expand mindset.
Old school thinking was that once you're past a certain age, no new learning can happen. However, research on the brain and aging tells us the opposite is true. The benefits of self-education and lifelong learning are countless. From improved memory and brain function to a sense of autonomy, accomplishment and renewed vitality, you can put yourself at the head of your class!
And now, thanks to the internet and a global community, neither time, money nor distance are rarely any longer obstacles to education. As a lifelong learner, you can set your own schedule. Reading a good book, gardening, having a conversation are all learning opportunities that are available around the clock.
Make a to-read and to-watch list.
Keep your pen and paper, or smartphone notepad, handy. As you go about your day, jot down any interesting comments you hear or information you see about a movie or book that interests you. Then put it on your to read or to watch list. You'll be amazed at just how quickly that thing comes into your sphere of influence once you've put your attention to it.
Goals can be simple and short term or lofty and long term. They're your goals so you can plan them however and whenever you want. Give yourself a short-term goal like watching one video on Qigong
to get you started on the practice. Or, decide to learn a new vocabulary word or foreign language phrase every day for a year, and buy a language instruction CD to listen to on your way to work every day.
Gather your resources.
Get a library card and an internet account. Once you establish your learning goals, it’s time to gather your resources and references. You could visit your local college and see what textbooks are required for a specific course you're interested in and buy them on your own. Or, study a class syllabus and create your own. Do a quick search to see what information is available online. After that, head to the library to see what reference and research materials are available. Libraries aren't just books anymore. Today you can check out videos, maps, music cds, audio books and so much more. If you're looking for a skill that requires special instruction, create a list of places or individuals that could offer that instruction.
Ask lots of questions. People who don't ask questions because they want to appear to already know are limiting themselves. Asking questions shows interest in others, and, just as teaching reinforces your own learning, so does answering questions help people see information and situations from different angles. Effective learning requires active participation, and when you're asking questions, you're actively participating!
Join a group.
If you can think of an interest, there's a group for it. Even if you prefer your learning to be a solitary pursuit, it helps to have a group of people around you who are learning along with you. Your fellow learners can provide insights and resources that you never would have thought about. Also, in a group setting you might hear questions, and answers, to things you've never thought of on your own. Online communities can provide a great social learning environment as well.
Take it out of the classroom.
Thanks to the internet, online courses, remote learning and modern transportation, the entire world can now be your classroom. Once you've been bitten by the bug to learn about a thing, get out and learn by doing that thing. Have you always wanted to learn how to fly fish or horseback ride? Saddle up and train your muscles and mind out on the trails.
Practice, practice, practice.
Don’t just read or listen your way to knowledge. Try to find a way to put that knowledge to work. Trying to understand a certain period of art for your Art History class? Visit a museum and try to identify which paintings belong to the Post Impressionism era. If you’re learning about plant identification, get out your field guide walks the arboretum trails. If you’re learning a new language, set your mobile devices to that language and learn on the go as you run your daily errands.
Teach as you learn.
You don't have to wait to become an expert. In fact, translating your newfound knowledge to others helps you reinforce your own learning. When you teach what you've learned so far, you not only reinforce newly absorbed information, you learn how to learn. you also learn what others' learning styles are. Some people are visual learners. They love diagrams. Others are tactile learners and can really only understand through hands on experience.
Test yourself out in the real world.
To keep your information fresh and relevant, test your skills out in the world from time to time. After all, the purpose of formal education is to prepare you for the real world. Your self-taught curriculum starts out with real world training. How you test yourself will depend on the skill or knowledge you’re trying to acquire. If you’re learning Spanish, for example, your test could be a visit to your local Mexican restaurant. Try ordering only in Spanish.
As you learn new skills, you’ll feel more excited about life, and more intent on your life purpose. You might even discover your passion!
How have you committed to lifelong learning? Tell us what you've learned along the way!
In Full Bloom
, by Ilchi Lee. This book breaks through this bias and social stereotypes surrounding the aging of the brain. Based on the five-step Brain Education method and the latest findings in neuroscience, it is a guide to getting the most out of life and using your brain to its maximum potential.