Lifelong Learning: It Can Change Your Life“Once you stop learning, you start dying,” Albert Einstein said.

Sure, the implications of living a life that has nothing left to teach are dire, but there are, in my mind, many fates worse than death.

A life of boredom? Complacency? Liveable, to be sure, but worth living?

Whether in life or our careers, the pursuit of, and commitment to, lifelong learning is an essential step along our path to success, however, we may define it.

Reading, Writing, and Learning

Stephen King wrote:

If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: Read a lot and write a lot.

You can’t do one without the other.

I won’t write well or learn to write well if I don’t read. And I can’t be a writer if I don’t, well, write. Right?

I’ve learned more from the books I read (non-fiction, fiction, fantasy, comic) than from any other source.

Reading affects the way I write, how I interact with people, and it has changed how I look at problems and their solutions.

It (reading) is one of my most important and, frankly, most accessible lifelong learning tools.

Reading is the constant resource at my disposal to ensure I am always learning, always keeping my brain active and filling it with interesting (to me) things.

But it’s clearly not the only way to learn, especially in our increasingly digital world.

Learning the Way You Want to Learn

Where is it written that classes only take place in a classroom?

This is one of the questions posed by Kaplan University in its now-relatively-famous “Kaplan Desks” spot.

It finishes with a powerful message:

Where is it written that you can’t change your life? That’s just the thing. It isn’t written anywhere.

Learning can change our lives.

That IS just the thing, though.

So many people spend so many years, months, days, and hours physically at school, they forget, or just never—you guessed it—learn, that there are myriad ways of learning.

Just like there is always something new to learn and discover, there are new ways to learn them.

Yes, But No

Or, perhaps, we are aware of all the great ways we can pursue lifelong learning, but we assume none will work well for us.

Yes, I agree there are amazing ways for me to learn day-in and day-out, but no, they aren’t for me. They won’t work. I don’t learn that way.

Balderdash (I Googled balderdash to make sure it still meant what I thought it did. Yay learning).

Myth: We Have Set (Lifelong) Learning Styles

In a survey of more than 3,000 Americans, nearly 90 percent of respondents believe it’s better to receive information in your personal learning style. But once you start thinking about the idea, it falls apart, says Ulrich Boser (“Five Popular Myths about Learning That are Completely Wrong”, Fast Company).

It’s hard to learn soccer only by hearing it, Boser says. Like many myths, there is a bit of truth that lies behind it, but there’s no research to support learning styles. One major recent review stated simply that the authors found virtually no evidence for the approach.

Don’t get me wrong, there are tools and tactics I employ to help me learn more effectively.

Writing notes. Repetition. Learning by doing.

But sometimes you just have to embrace lifelong learning and admit that the more you try to learn, the better.

Why Do We Learn?

Generally speaking, whether they consider it lifelong learning or not, professionals like doctors need to stay abreast of their specialty.

In this case, innovations in medicine and the technology they use to practice and administer it.

Lawyers need to be aware of changes in case law.

How do they do it? How do they make, or take the time?

Somehow, someway, they have to, or they won’t be able to practice their respective professions.

Working in PR and marketing, we have to keep up to speed with popular culture, rules and regulations around content dissemination, advancements in technology and, overall, the where, why and how audiences like to consume and engage with content.

Artificial Intelligence, virtual reality, big data. There’s so much to learn!

Politicians don’t go to school for politicking. Usually.

They’re often lawyers or TV show hosts before entering public office.

Maybe that was a bad example.

My parents’ generation trained for one type of job and stuck to it. For life.

These days, we grow and evolve, both out of necessity (layoffs, relocation, health), but also just because things (and people) change. Constantly.

We are not as content as we once were to stick to one job, one field, for the duration of our career.

Lifelong learning is important to live a rich life, but it also provides a certain amount of freedom.

If I want to write a book or work for a virtual PR agency (oh look, I do!), I have the skills—and ability to learn more of them—to do that.

How Do We Learn?

While I think we can agree the “I can’t learn that way” excuse doesn’t (or shouldn’t) fly, it is fair to say we all have preferences to how we undertake our respective lifelong learning. 

I love online courses. Maybe “love” is a strong word, but I really like them. It’s just like being at school, but virtually.

(Wow. I really need to get out more.)

For example, the Close More Clients Masterclass and The Content Secret for Closing More Clients Bootcamp are both live, face-to-face with Gini Dietrich.

They are conducted live, they’re dynamic and carry a lot of accountability, which many people feel they need to get the most out of the work.

Other courses and people are learn-at-your-own pace.

I take a writing course that is prerecorded and submit assignments when I can.

I’m not always good at keeping to the deadlines, but they understand life and everything else can get in the way.

The important thing is I’m doing it and getting something out of it.

Podcasts, videos and, of course, blog posts are constantly feeding into my lifelong learning practices.

I listen to podcasts or audiobooks after I drop off the kids at school (during the walk would just be weird), and while I’m driving (sometimes while cycling, but that’s not a good idea!).

I read during lunch and before bed.

Much of it is leisure reading, but that’s important too.

It adds to my vocabulary, makes me a better writer and fuels my imagination.

It’s hard work, for sure, but ultimately it’s an effort that distinguishes us from others in our current space, or space(s) we want to be in.

Just Keep Learning

Embrace the concept of lifelong learning and find a way to fit it into your lives.

It’s an investment. You need to invest the time.

In some cases, you need to invest the money. But not always.

Above all, lifelong learning is an investment in yourself, and that’s never going to steer you wrong.

How do you keep learning?

How has that changed over time, and what was your biggest, most impactful lifelong learning moment?

For me?

The first book my dad ever gave me, and my favorite book to this day was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

It inspired me the first time it was read to me, and the many times I’ve reread it since.

It’s what makes me want to be a writer, and it helps me maintain the idea that I can do anything if I try.

The message therein is all about limitless potential, fueled by our ability and willingness to push ourselves and to constantly learn.

We choose our next world through what we learn in this one.

Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.― Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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