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How to Become a Lifelong Learner

A young girl in a pink and blue dress is reading books while sitting on the grass

Some people think that they are done learning once they finish school. But can you really imagine not learning a single thing after you’ve finished high school or college? To go until the age of 80+ with just the same knowledge that you had at 18? I hope that sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me!

Learning doesn’t stop when you finish school, but it does become your responsibility to create your own “curriculum.” What that looks like depends on your interests, strengths, weaknesses, and career. While everyone will have a different way of learning throughout their life, here are a few tips to help create a plan that will work for you.

1) Read, Read, Read

One of the best things you can do to learn more is to read. Read books, ebooks, magazines, blogs, articles, journals - any of those will help you learn new things.

Reading is a simple and cost-effective way to learn new information. There are books on every subject you can think of, so it’s not hard to find what you’re looking for. You can read to learn about an entirely new subject, brush up on a skill, or get ideas on different ways to tackle a problem.

Unlike taking classes or working toward a certification, reading is inexpensive. You can find many books at your local library. And if they don’t have the book you want, most libraries are connected to digital ebook collections like Libby so you can access even more books. And even if you buy a book, they are still cheap compared to classes or conferences.

Your reading doesn’t have to be contained to non-fiction to learn. Research has shown that reading novels can help improve empathy, creativity, and a host of other emotional intelligence skills. Walking a mile in a character’s shoes can really open your mind and help you understand different perspectives.

For more tips on how to build a reading habit and choose the right books to read, I highly recommend checking out this month’s book club pick - Read to Lead by Jeff Brown and Jesse Wisnewski. Our post with key takeaways will be up next week and we’d love for you to join our discussion on Sept. 27th at 6:30 PM CST.

2) Find Classes or Workshops

Classes and workshops are a good way to gain in-depth knowledge and have a more guided learning approach compared to books. There are so many options that it can be overwhelming! But no need to panic, let’s go over a few here.

In-House Training: Many companies offer in-house training or will pay for your to complete courses that can add value to the company. Take advantage of these offerings! Not only are they likely to be tailored to your industry, but you can also learn other valuable skills this way like leadership. Your company may also be willing to pay for classes/certifications or your membership to skill-building organizations like Toastmasters, so it never hurts to ask!

Conferences/Workshops: Every year, there are thousands of workshops around the country for every industry. While some of these might not be worth the travel and the cost, others can be the perfect way to gain a lot of knowledge in a short period of time. You also get the chance to learn from industry experts this way.

Search online for your industry or interest to see what’s available and what works with your schedule and budget. Ask your friends and colleagues about events they’ve attended to get some ideas of what’s out there too.

Online Courses: You can learn how to do just about anything online - from cooking to coding. The problem is figuring out what content is high-quality and trustworthy.

Fortunately, there are many online catalogues from trusted sources. Check out sites like Masterclass, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning to find a course on the subject you’re interested in. Many industry experts also have their own courses available. Just be careful to set yourself goals and plan so you don’t go crazy spending money on anything that sounds interesting.

You don’t have to limit your online learning to career-based skills. An online course can often be the perfect way to try out a new hobby or skill without investing too much time or money. Even a simple YouTube video might be able to answer your question or spark interest in a new topic.

Local Classes: You’d be surprised to learn how many classes are available in your local area, even if you don’t live in a big city. Your local library most likely has regular classes on different topics. Community centers and similar places often host classes too, so take a little time to check out what your local community has to offer. They’re usually inexpensive ways to learn something new and meet new people who share your interests.

3) Set Goals & Make a Plan

If you really want to get serious about nourishing your brain, take time to set goals and make a plan for learning. These can be long and short-term goals.

First, identify the areas where you want to learn more. Maybe you want to improve a weakness or hone one of your strengths. Perhaps you want to learn a new skill for work or complete a project in your favorite hobby. You can set different goals for the different areas of your life.

Once you know what you want to work on, outline your goal. As always, I suggest using the SMART framework to set your goals - make them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

Finally, after your goals are set, you can create a plan to ensure you reach those goals. For example, if your goal is to read 15 books on leadership for the year, make a plan to read x amount of pages per day to help you stay on track.

Whatever your goal is, determine the steps necessary to reach the goal and create a plan to ensure you stay on target. Take time to regularly check in on your progress to adjust if necessary.

And don’t forget to reward yourself when you achieve your goals!

4) Have an Open Mind & Explore

Although I’ve talked a lot about planning your learning throughout this post, it’s also important to have an open mind and be willing to try new opportunities when they arise. After all, it’s hard to learn with a closed mind.

Having an open mind can help you find new and better ways to do a familiar task or different perspectives on tackling a problem. Trying new things is also a great way to learn. Explore a new hobby or try a different method of completing a task - you never know what you’ll learn that way!

Sharing what you learn with others can also help you cement new ideas in your mind or look at the knowledge from a new perspective. Debate ideas that you've read about with colleagues to see how they might work (or not work) in your organization. Spread what you've learned and it will continue to multiply your knowledge.

Lifelong learning is the key to advancing your career and being fulfilled in your personal life. Taking the time to set goals and plan your learning will help you become a more effective learner. Never be afraid to ask questions and keep learning new things!

"If you develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow." Anthony J. D'Angelo

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