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May 19, 2013

Lifelong Learning Part 1 – New Knowledge, New Experiences

by alive

When you consider an activity that differentiates youth from adulthood, what comes to mind?


For many people, it’s learning.


Learning ChildThe youth/ childhood phase of Life was spent mostly learning. We focused on gaining knowledge – reading, studying, exploring a broad spectrum of subjects, much of it for its own sake rather than practical application. Yet it was this diversity that we allowed us to develop – along with the practical subjects of science and mathematics – a general appreciation of history, geography and the arts.



Running businessman.

The adult phase after is spent working and doing. After leaving school, we shifted our attention to work, business, dating, and family. Sure, we learnt things too, but only as a necessity, a corollary to our job, social life, and raising kids. It was not learning for the sake of knowledge.



Yet, the very pursuit of new knowledge and experience for its own sake adds novelty, fresh stimulus, and roundedness to Life, enhancing it. The journey of discovery challenges different faculties, keeping us young by keeping us curious and stimulated, instead of lapsing into boredom and ennui.


Lifelong learning, defined as the “ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge”* is an idea worth embracing in our quest for a fuller Life.


Lifelong Learning – What It’s NOT

You’ve probably heard people speak of the benefits of lifelong learning to career and generating revenue. Respected self-improvement gurus like Brian Tracy emphasize the continuous learning necessary to become the top earner in your field.


However, the benefits I want to discuss are not career- or business-related.  You see, if the only lifelong learning you do is what’s necessary to advance in your job or field, you’re really still just working. It doesn’t contribute to your growth as a well-rounded person. In fact, it might even be safe to say that you’re adding stress to your Life. We know what that means in the ageing department.



Don’t believe me? Look around you. How many of your co-workers’ learning is focused on grasping a new system, mastering the latest fad management ideas, slogging late nights for that MBA. Do any of them look like they’re living Life more fully and getting younger because of it?


I don’t think so.  



Lifelong Learning – The AA35 Definition

Corporate treadmillNow I’m not saying it’s not important to learn so you can earn more. After all more money gives you greater freedoms and options for exploring and learning – provided it’s not an end in itself.


But Lifelong learning in the AA35 context means seeking knowledge, developing abilities, creating experiences and cultivating interests that make you happy, open your mind, and let you appreciate what Life has to offer.  Outside the career grindstone or the corporate treadmill.


It’s about enhancement of you as a human being, not just a means to an

end. Much of its value is already in the journey, not just at the destination. It is intrinsic and self-motivated, not extrinsically-directed.


It’s about expansion and growth in the breadth of who you could be, not continued drilling for depth in your work. It’s an important part of retaining a childlike curiosity to partake in all the facets that make Life meaningful. It’s about learning for the simple a reason that it makes you happy.


Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Here are just some of the benefits from Lifelong learning.


Social Interaction

In the pursuit of learning something, you’ll meet many new people on the same journey. People you would not otherwise have met at work. Chances are, if you chose the same thing to learn, you share other common interests and perhaps values too.

 pottery class salsa class


Personal Development

This simply goes without saying. If you have a diverse range of learning goals you’ll develop many facets as a human being. My personal inspiration is the Renaissance men and women of old in terms of the potential for development.


You’ll also be able to see things from different perspectives, and make more informed assessments and decisions.


Become More Interesting

boringHave you ever known someone who drones on and on about the same topic? Perhaps someone who was an obvious intellectual when it came to his field of work, but when talking about anything outside of it, couldn’t put two intelligent sentences together? The more you learn, the more interesting you’ll be. Conversations with you will never be boring!




Keep Your Mind Active

Use it or lose it, and it’s true of the mind too. Notice how many people deterioriate rapidly after retirement? They lack the stimulation they had at work, and they didn’t keep engaged. By always learning, you’re always challenging your understanding, thinking in new ways, and using your memory. 


Even a visit to a museum or attending a talk can increase the synaptic connections between brain cells and encourage development of new brain cells. Surely useful considering the spectre of Alzheimer’s or dementia looms larger the further from 30 we are.

 museum visit



Keep Physically Active

There are many interesting physical activities that require combinations of strength, dexterity, balance, stamina, flexibility, and hand-eye coordination, to name just a few. Add in the warm up, cool down and conditioning phases processes and this means you get the benefits of exercise while you’re learning something just for fun.

Want some examples?


Golf, increasing in popularity in Singapore, will involve core strength, flexibility, power generation, coordination and balance.

Close-up of Golf Club and Golf Ball 


Anyone who has tried bowling can tell you that it’s not as simple as picking up a ball and rolling it towards a few pins. Bowling requires strength, power, coordination, flexibility, spatial judgement and muscle control.



Very popular in Singapore now is pole dancing. Many people think of pole dancing as a skimpily-clad girl simply grabbing a pole and moving her body in a wild, untalented way. While that might happen in seedy clubs, proper pole dancing requires dedicated training to perform well. A quick look at this video will easily convince you of the muscular and core strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, and control required.


The best part of it is, you don’t even focus on the fact that it’s exercise. So you do it, and improve the relevant areas of fitness without even realizing you’re training. That’s good!


Create Joy Or Value For Others


How do you feel when you watch an expert juggler like Viktor Kee…


… a master sculptor like Nano Lopez…


… or even a chef like Jamie Oliver work?

Amazement certainly, but a part has to feel sheer childlike delight. What would it be worth to learn something that could give children that same delight… maybe even your own? Or even older folks… What would that do for your ability to practise contribution?

Balloon animal artist balloon animals 2 


When you get good at something, really good, you’ll be able to inspire, amaze, and yes delight people around you too.


But you don’t even have to get really good. Think about the delight a child brings to her parents when she plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star falteringly with one finger. Think about how proud your spouse would be of you if you conquered your fear of heights and abseiled down just a 20 foot wall. The people who love you most are delighted the most with your most modest accomplishments.


Fosters Appreciation for the World Around You

When you learn new things, you discover new possibilities. You see things in a different light, and your gaze widens from one of narrow focus, to one that takes in a lot more.


The world becomes more interesting. You’ll look at a leaf and not just register a leaf but feel a sense of wonder and beauty. You won’t take a breath of clean air without feeling enormously grateful for how it exists.

leaf   Clean air


I also find that as I learn from experts at something I’m taking baby steps in, I appreciate people more. The diversity of talent, and even background that led to the cultivation of that talent. Everyone is different, and many people have some unique talent to share. That anyone can add new dimensions to other people’s Lives is something to think about.

  Pottery hands        3D tiger 


 I’ll end part 1 with a couple of quotes that illustrate the importance of Lifelong learning.


“The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.”
– Newton D. Baker, American politician


“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
–  John Dewey (American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer)


 We’ll see you back here for Part 2, where we get to the ACTION of starting your Lifelong learning journey!



*Department of Education and Science (2000). Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education. Dublin: Stationery Office.

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