“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” – Kofi Annan
When we think about education and learning, it may bring back memories of school and stuffy lecture halls. That one teacher who always seemed to pick on you and the classes where it was a real challenge not to fall asleep. Now as adults, we may feel as if we have served our time so to speak, ignoring the need for learning and experiencing new things. Who has time for learning new skills anyway, between early mornings, working long hours, late nights, exercise, diet, relationships, family, social life, it seems life is a never ending To-Do list.
HOWEVER, lifelong learning, including learning new skills and becoming more knowledgeable in topics of interest, is associated with maintaining, promoting and improving our positive emotional wellbeing. In a study conducted by Hammond (2004), 145 adults were interviewed about the effects of learning throughout their lives. For those who participated in lifelong learning, a range of positive health outcomes were observed. Most notably, these adults showed enhanced ability to recover from mental illness and the capacity to cope with stressful life events. Additionally, adults who participated in more learning activities reported higher levels of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and a sense of purpose and hope. Learning often involves spending time and interacting with other people, helping us build relationships and feeling a greater sense of connectedness.
Research shows that our brain needs just as much training and exercise as our body. One of the major benefits of lifelong learning is that it can help delay the onset of cognitive impairment as we get older. A study published in GeroPsych in 2012 examined the cognitive, social and emotional outcomes for a group of adults (55 – 70 years) who completed courses in science, psychology, history, language, music and art. Compared to a same-aged control group, these adults showed improved memory functioning, increased levels of positive mood, social and information- seeking activities. These findings suggest that becoming a lifelong student can help retain and promote an active and healthy adult life.
Learning new skills and broadening your horizons can be surprisingly simple. It doesn’t mean you have to go to college and do a degree or PhD. While formal classes can be a great way to learn a new subject, it is important to be creative and think about what you would like to learn about, or what skill you would like to develop. Some ideas include:
Seamus O’Donnell (BA, MSc)