“I’m still learning…” Michelangelo at age 87
What’s important about education? Once you are out of school and into your career- does it make sense to continue on a path of learning? Absolutely.
Many studies over time have shown positive correlations between education and income throughout life. The rate of social and economic change has made that even more true. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.(i) Economists predict huge changes as new industries arise and others disappear forever. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and offshoring mean constant shifts in the nature of work. While you are still working, you may have to change careers multiple times in your life. Being a quick-change artist professionally may become a necessity. Continuing education can make those switches possible. Investing in ongoing education may be a better investment for you than the stock market.
And then there is technology. All of us, working or not, are subject to the constant changes brought about by technological advances. Wonderful they are- and we all benefit. But they require new learning. Every day, there are new devices, new apps, new ways to use them. You can’t even apply for a job now without using a computer. Your interview may be conducted online. Your social life may revolve around texts and emails. Media like Facebook and Twitter keep you connected to friends, family and the world. The requirement for tech savvy will only increase with time and inevitable advances.
It is believed that education can also affect your health. “The better educated have healthier behaviors along virtually every margin…” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.(ii) In a recent paper, they concluded that education is predictive of how often and how well people survive illnesses. Those with more education have better tools and access to information to help themselves. They are able to increase their health and survival odds by making well-informed decisions.
There is also the possibility that our mental health can be directly related to the exercise the brain gets. As an example, the famous “Nun Study” begun in 1986 has studied the traits and activities of over 600 nuns to try to determine if Alzheimer’s could be predicted.(iii) The study, which is still ongoing, compared post-mortem brain autopsies of hundreds of convent residents and found that many of the nuns who appeared to be functioning normally into old age actually had as many plaques and tangles in the brain as their colleagues who had all the symptoms of advanced Alzheimer’s.
They determined that the new learning, especially in subjects that required focused attention, like languages and music, result in the development of new neural pathways that can later fill in for older pathways that have been damaged. Researcher’s in this study and other similar studies have concluded that some degree of protection might be achieved by deliberately engaging in challenging activities that require new learning.
And what about plain old happiness? Clearly there is more to making learning a part of your entire life than just economic or health reasons. Learning is fun. Especially when you are learning about something you find fascinating, something you love. Human beings are intrinsically curious. And there is an endless world of interesting things. The activity of learning can be absorbing and meaningful in itself.
This condition of complete absorption in some satisfying activity is known as “flow,” a name coined thirty years ago by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi recalls people he knew as a child in war-ravaged Europe who could happily lose themselves in an activity, like chess or even a risky thing like rock climbing, despite being in constant physical danger and surrounded by death and destruction. The activity was so absorbing they could find happiness while in the middle of war.
Flow can occur as we are learning new skills or interests. His research showed that people totally engaged in pursuits (that make them happy) can trigger healthful changes in their brain chemistry and respiratory patterns.
It's never been easier to access ongoing learning. Books, online courses, webinars, professional development programs, courses at colleges, libraries and cultural centers, audio tapes, DVD’s, podcasts, and other resources are available to all. You can access learning while jogging, while driving to work and on trips. You can learn a language via cd’s or online. Books are on tape at your library and through programs like Audible. E-books online and on your cell phone are incredibly inexpensive. Satellite radio gives you access to the world with news and interviews. Through the internet the entire world of learning is at your disposal.
Make lifelong learning part of your plan, for economic security, social participation, health and just plain happiness!