The Importance of Lifelong Learning

In order to adapt and thrive in an unpredictable world, we need to continuously grow our knowledge and skills. These factors form the foundation for the possibilities in our lives and what we're ultimately able to accomplish. Regularly learning new things increases our opportunities and makes us more adaptable and resilient for the future.

For many, high school and college consisted of memorizing what was taught and being able to regurgitate it on a test. But true learning is "the gain of knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, or experiencing something."[1] Learning means integrating new knowledge and skills by actively engaging with the material, and ultimately being able to apply it to our benefit and that of those around us. True learning completely inverts the formal education process many have experienced by putting us in control of what we learn.

Lifelong learning is a skill in itself. It involves seeking out what is worthy of knowing, persevering to understand it, and evolving our knowledge and skills as the world changes. Becoming a lifelong learner is a repeated process of discovering new things, integrating them, and applying what we've learned.

The benefits of lifelong learning

Striving for knowledge has led to the discoveries, advancements, and innovations that have propelled the human race to where it is today. The knowledge and skills we gain in our own pursuits grows our individual identity, and by extension, our collective identity. We each have a particular blend of knowledge, skills, and experience, which puts each of us in a unique position to contribute to our world.

Lifelong learning gives us the freedom to pursue our interests, opens up greater possibilities, and creates greater optionality. It increases the odds that we will find fulfillment in what we choose to pursue. We are more likely to find situations in which we can make the best use of our talents and which are aligned with our view of the future.

The knowledge and skills we develop through lifelong learning enable us to challenge and change the status quo for ourselves and others. It allows us to create: to invent, design, and build new ways of doing things that make our lives and the lives of those around us better. Learning expands the realm of the possible and allows us to see opportunities that wouldn't have been visible otherwise.

Becoming lifelong learners

Building a framework for lifelong learning involves inventorying what we know…and what we'd like to, curating sources of information, and finding spaces to test what we've learned. This is a recurring process that helps us continually refine our knowledge and skills.

Inventorying what we know…and what we'd like to

Our journey to lifelong learning starts with writing down an inventory of our knowledge and skills. Starting with an accurate understanding of ourselves helps us make good choices about what to learn and where to focus our efforts.

  • What energizes us?
  • What seems effortless and makes us feel like we are "in the zone?"
  • What parts of our routine do we especially enjoy?

In this process, we may discover areas where we haven't yet developed knowledge or skills, but would like to.

  • What ideas and trends interest us?
  • What does living an ideal life mean to us?
  • What kind of organizations do we want to be a part of?

Curating sources of information

The things on our inventory that we know or would like to each present an opportunity to learn and grow. To develop a reference list that includes rich sources to help us do so, consider:

  • Does this source deepen my understanding of something I know?
  • Does it shed light on something I'm interested in?
  • Is it actionable or just interesting?

Find spaces to test what you've learned

The best way to integrate knowledge is to apply it - this is how we turn knowledge into skills and capabilities. Feedback derived from applying what we know makes our ideas more potent by testing and refining them. If we follow Stephen Covey's advice to "begin with the end in mind,"[3], imagining how we might apply what we've learned also makes the discovery process more robust. We can find spaces to apply what we know by asking:

  • Can I use this knowledge in my job or a community organization?
  • Can I use it to motivate my city or town board to make progress on an issue that's important to me?
  • Can I use it as a guest speaker in a class at a local high school or college?

Pass it on!

Once we have put in the work to acquire new knowledge or skills, we can and should share our experience with others. Sharing makes it easier for others to learn, and encourages them along their own lifelong learning journey.

Sharing reinforces what we have learned. Richard Feynman's Learning Technique[2] involves deepening our understanding of a subject by explaining it to someone else. Writing a blog post, making a video, or posting in a dedicated social media group, helps deepen our understanding of the subject and can generate useful feedback.

Sharing opens up the possibility for network effects. By doing so, we can connect with those who have similar interests and expand more traditional connection factors such as family and friends, work, or school.

There are many good resources to help you build a framework to become lifelong learners - here are a few to get you started.

  • Seth Godin blogs daily, has written multiple bestsellers, and speaks frequently on education. I find all of his material very much on point and accessible.
  • David Perell tweets often about how education is changing, and summarizes some of his thoughts in this note.
  • Josh Kaufman has written several books, including the bestseller "The Personal MBA." He also has a great TED talk - watch to the end for a great ukulele solo!

Jump Start

Post an inspirational quote on social media with a short note about why it is meaningful to you.

If you'd like to talk more about lifelong learning, please message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. Good luck!

[1] Learning. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster.

[2] Feynman, R. P. Surely You’re Joking, Mr.Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character.

[3] Covey, S. R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.