Photo of Bob Dylan Singing

5 Key Benefits of Lifelong Learning

If you are like me, you probably take it for granted that consciously engaging in lifelong learning is worth it, well, just because. You are intrinsically motivated to learn and therefore don’t need a list of potential benefits of lifelong learning. It is its own reward.

Fair enough.

But I think it is still worth being clear with ourselves about why we engage in lifelong learning. Knowing the reasons can help with clarifying our learning goals and planning; it can help keep us focused at those times when maybe learning does not seem like its own reward, when we need discipline; and, finally, it can arm us with some arguments to bring others into the global community of lifelong learners.

So, with those goals in mind, here are five key areas in which I think lifelong learning provides tremendous benefits:

1. Economic Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Let’s start with an obvious one that might win over those less inclined to put the required effort into lifelong learning. I’ve made the point numerous times here on the blog as well as in 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner that we now live in a learning economy. Jobs that require relatively static knowledge – from assembly line work to book keeping – continue to shift to machines. (As Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly put it long ago, “Productivity is for machines. If you can measure it, robots should do it.”)

Most of us will end up switching jobs numerous times. Many of us will switch careers at least once. And even those of us fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to stay in the same job over a long period of time will almost certainly see the nature of the work we do shift rapidly. To thrive economically, you simply have to keep learning. (The Economist, by the way, finally tuned into this idea and declared lifelong learning an “economic imperative.”)

I’d argue, too, that this learning is much more than a matter of building skills and knowledge within the narrow scope of a profession. It will be increasingly important to be well-rounded, to have a sense of perspective, and to be able to leverage a variety of learning experiences into generating new ideas and ways of doing things. Harsh as it may sound, the ability to do this (at least for now) is what separates the average human from the average machine, at least when it comes to raw economic productivity.

Which leads to my next major benefit area…

2. Intellectual Benefits of Lifelong Learning

I use the term “intellectual” broadly. It doesn’t mean that you need to be a bearded professor with elbow patches and a pipe or a turtleneck-wearing, cigarette smoking French poet. (Funny how smoking – not such a smart thing to do – and being an intellectual have traditionally gone together.)

Rather, I mean that lifelong learning increases your knowledge and – just as importantly – your ability to use that knowledge in diverse and meaningful ways.

When you are truly available for it, lifelong learning opens up and enhances your mind, helping you to see and appreciate new opportunities.

It fuels creativity and innovation.

At the same time, lifelong learning is an approach to living life consciously and deliberately, rather than being guided purely by instinct, emotion, and the desires of others. It is nothing less, I’d argue, than personal philosophy in action. (Tweet this.)

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3. Cognitive Benefits of Lifelong Learning

As the venerable Wikipedia states it, cognition is “a group of mental processes that includes attention, memory, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions.” There is a wealth of both scientific and anecdotal evidence at this point that actively continuing to learn throughout life is beneficial for all of these processes.

My own belief is that if you combine active learning with exercise, good diet, and adequate sleep, your mind will perform like a finely-tuned engine in a Grand Prix racer (though feel free to pick your own metaphor).

Bottom line: the process of lifelong learning helps to keep your brain working well, and as we continue to live longer and longer, this is a benefit that is hard to ignore. (Tweet this.)

4. Social Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Think of it: a huge percentage of what you know came from watching and listening to your parents, experimenting with and testing out new ideas or skills on friends, family, colleagues, and strangers, taking risks and failing or succeeding in front of others, gauging reactions, adjusting and adapting.

All of this is part of the process of lifelong learning, and it is – and always has been – highly social (yes, even before blogs, Twitter, and Facebook).

Learning sparks social engagement – we often connect with others because we want to learn from them and with them – and it is also an outcome of social engagement, often without our even realizing it.

There are numerous personal benefits to all of this socializing. There is evidence, for example, that people with strong social connections tend to be happier and live longer.

There are also organizational and societal benefits. Organizations that learn and adapt are more sustainable over time.

The same goes for societies. And, as John Dewey and others argued long ago, lifelong learning is critical as an element of democratic societies. Your learning efforts, in other words, support the greater good. So, get to it! (Tweet this.)

5. Spiritual Benefits of Lifelong Learning

As with the term “intellectual,” I use the term spiritual in a broad sense. Learning, I believe, feeds the spirit. It gives us purpose, it gives us focus, it fuels our sense of fulfillment.

Bob Dylan famously wrote “He not busy being born Is busy dying” (from “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” – this quote is in Spanish in the photo that accompanies this post).  You could easily substitute “learning” for “being born” in this line (though, of course, it wouldn’t make for as good a song). Philosophers since well before Dylan have felt the same. (What, after all, is a philosopher up to if not lifelong learning?)

This last one brings me back around to the point I made at the beginning: most of you who read this blog, and particularly those of you who have read this far in this post, embrace lifelong learning simply because it feels right. It is part of who you are. It helps give your life meaning. It is its own reward.

The other benefits of lifelong learning are important but secondary.

Jeff Cobb

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15 thoughts on “5 Key Benefits of Lifelong Learning”

  1. I highly agree with lifelong learning being an economic benefit. In my field of business there is new systems and technology coming out every day and I have to try to stay on top of all of it, because as a business owner you have to be able to sell the latest and greatest or the competition will wipe you out. I feel if you are not learning something new every single day , then you will get left behind very quickly.

  2. Hi Jeff,
    I love learning. Books are my best friend, always available when I need them, bringing me comfort and knowledge. I always have atleast one with me every where I go. This has been going on for over 12 years. I love bookstores, free book bins and old-school printing. Although I know it is important for me isten to my gut and have faith, it is in my design to search. I love it and love that I learned of LLL. I have so much to do and learn, especially since I get ahead of myself apt of times, as with my new website I need to learn about which direction to go. Perhaps I took the wrong course, but it did lead me here, so that’s a happy positive. Certain ones/areas aren’t educated in the importance of education. I do believe we are all different and some of us are made to be brave. But we all have progressions in our lives. For example, I used to very outgoing and easily adapted to changes. Now I’m more fixed. My dad is an avid reader and very smart, he is always teaching me the proper way and to read the fine print. Thank you so much for your newsletter.

  3. Your post outlines some important benefits of becoming a lifelong learner. As a lifelong learner myself, I’ve built an app that helps you remember more of the things you learn. It’s called Lernabit, and all you have to do is use Lernabit to write down the things you learn. Then Lernabit will let you know when it is time to review them so you never forget what you learned. Try it out at https://lernabit.com

  4. I believe all of US learn daily consciously or unconsciously. But I agree with the blogger that, we need to be aware of this and make conscious efforts to devote time and resources to it. On the job, in our marriages/relationships, in everything. Work is better enjoyed when you learn (Dayforce) and adapt. Marriages become better because you know better how to handle situations. Plato once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. We need self reflection from time to time and learn new ways to do things better. Thanks for reminding us all of the need for LLL.

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  9. Jeff, I’m with you on this. It’s hard to believe that, being so obvious, we have to try to convince others about the benefits of LLL. It really is a matter of survival for mankind. Just Delors 3rd pillar by itself, Learning to Leave Together should be considered axiomatic without further explanation.
    Good work! I think I’ll try something like this on my blog.
    Best regards

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  13. Hey Jeff,

    I think that for most people the true value of life long learning can not be fully appreciated until they have a ‘a few’ years of life experience behind them so to speak. For most young people the idea of ‘learning’ something brings back memories of a classroom environment where let’s face it, we all did most of our learning in the earlier part of our lives.

    The fact that our memories of our school going days are not always that great can create a barrier of sorts to the idea of learning something new. In the classroom we often had to learn subjects that we were not particularly interested in just to get points or grades and often were forced to learn by methods that might not have been the best fit for the type of learner that we were. In short, for many, the idea of learning can be equated to an unpleasant experience.

    It will often be the case that it is only when we have put a few years between ourselves and our school going days that the fact that we can learn new things because we ‘want to’ and not because we ‘have to’ becomes clear to us. This I think, is when our journey of life long learning truly begins!


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