Few of us will pursue college degrees as nonagenarians, or even as midcareer professionals. Some people never really liked school in the first place. And almost all of us have limits on our time and finances that make additional formal education impractical or impossible.
As we age, though, learning isn’t simply about earning degrees or attending storied institutions. Books, online courses, professional development programs, podcasts and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to make a habit of lifelong learning.
So why don’t more of us seize these opportunities? The next time you’re tempted to put learning on the back burner, remember a few points:
— EDUCATIONAL INVESTMENTS ARE AN ECONOMIC IMPERATIVE: The links between formal education and lifetime earnings are well-studied and substantial. Trends including artificial intelligence, robotics, and offshoring mean constant shifts in the nature of work. And navigating this ever-changing landscape requires continual learning and personal growth.
— LEARNING IS POSITIVE FOR HEALTH: Reading, even for short periods of time, can dramatically reduce your stress levels. Other research indicates that learning to play a new instrument can offset cognitive decline, and learning difficult new skills in older age is associated with improved memory. What’s more, while the causation is inconclusive, there’s a well-studied relationship between longevity and education.
— BEING OPEN AND CURIOUS HAS PROFOUND PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL BENEFITS: While few studies validate this observation, I’ve noticed in my own interactions that those who dedicate themselves to learning and who exhibit curiosity are almost always happier and more socially and professionally engaging than those who don’t. Perhaps your experiences will differ, but if you’re like me, I suspect those you admire most, both personally and professionally, are those who seem most dedicated to learning and growth.
— OUR CAPACITY FOR LEARNING IS A CORNERSTONE OF HUMAN FLOURISHING AND MOTIVATION: We are uniquely endowed with the capacity for learning, creation and intellectual advancement. Even if education had no impact on health, prosperity or social standing, it would be entirely worthwhile as an expression of what makes every person so special and unique.
The reasons to continue learning are many, and the weight of the evidence would indicate that lifelong learning isn’t simply an economic imperative but a social, emotional and physical one as well. We live in an age of abundant opportunity for learning and development. Capturing that opportunity — maintaining our curiosity and intellectual humility — can be one of life’s most rewarding pursuits.