15 Ways to Keep Your Learning Going

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” —Henry Ford

Although “lifelong learning” has become a bit of a buzzword lately, it’s more than just a passing fad. Research shows that learning is beneficial for your well being at any age, and people with more early learning experience are more likely to engage in learning activities later on in life too.

Fortunately, most professionals understand the need to keep building on their skills and knowledge in order to progress in their careers, and one recent survey found that 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners while 93% of millennials are willing to spend their own money on further training.

So what are some of the things you can do to keep your learning going even when you’re technically no longer a student? Here are a few ideas.

1. Volunteer in a new area

Even if you’re not working in your dream job yet, volunteering in the area you’re hoping to work in will allow you to give the job test run and see if you really enjoy it. It’s also a great way to develop important transferrable skills, gain relevant work experience, and enhance your resume.

Look for volunteer roles that align with your background and interests but will also help you gain new experience or knowledge. For instance, if you’re hoping to gain management experience, you could look for roles where you’ll be overseeing other volunteers or coordinating fundraising efforts.

You can start your search for volunteer opportunities and not-for-profit jobs by using sites like Idealist, Pro Bono Australia and Go Volunteer, but look around for smaller local charities too, as they’re often easier to get involved with. Just be realistic about how many hours you’ll be able to commit to the organisation so you don’t end up feeling overworked and frustrated.

2. Enrol in an online course

Enrolling in an online course is probably the most obvious way to keep your learning going as a working professional, but before choosing a course, think about the skills you already have. Is there an area you’d like to strengthen? Is there a brand new skill you’d like to develop? Will this particular course help you move closer to your career goals?

Your options may range from online certificate and diploma courses that you can take at your own pace to free MOOCs from providers like Coursera, EdX, and others. If you’re thinking of taking a MOOC, check out this list of MOOCs that support lifelong learning.

3. Find a supportive work environment

There are many different types of work environments and not all of them are conducive to learning. So if you’re currently applying for jobs or already have multiple job offers on the table, find out which organisations have a “learning culture.”

Many companies these days, including Amazon, Google, and Marriot International, have employee learning programs or provide opportunities for professional development. If you’re not sure whether a company has a strong learning culture, look for companies that promote from within, as they’re a lot more likely to invest in employee training and mentoring.

4. Find out if your company will support your professional development

In recent years, numerous studies have highlighted the importance of employee motivation, and as a result, many companies have started offering or paying for training courses, workshops, and professional development programs. So check your employee handbook or HR materials and find out whether your company has anything like this in place.

If your organisation isn’t currently making any allowances for professional development and you’d like to broach the subject with your boss, do some research beforehand. Find out what opportunities are available, how much they cost, and, of course, how it could benefit the company.

5. Start your own blog

Aside from helping you hone your writing skills, blogging regularly requires you to do research and stay up-to-date on the latest developments in your field of interest.

Studies also show that explaining a concept in your own words can help you to identify incorrect assumptions and lead to a deeper understanding of new material, so blogging is a great way to make sure you never stop learning.

6. Subscribe to educational YouTube channels

YouTube is good for a lot more than just funny cat videos and if you’ve never used it to learn new skills or spark creativity you’re missing out. It’s a huge source of free information on just about any topic you can think of, from science and math to languages and art.

If you start by subscribing to a handful of high quality educational channels related to your interests, you’ll gradually begin to find more of what you like and weed out what you don’t. Not sure where to begin? Here are 197 educational YouTube channels you should know about.

7. Listen to podcasts

YouTube is great for learning at home, but if you want to learn anywhere at any time, podcasts are even better because you can pop your headphones on and listen to a podcast whether you’re driving to work, cleaning the house, or working out.

Research shows that podcasts can grab and maintain attention more effectively than text and may also increase student motivation. Podcasts are also thought to help students conceptually understand new content as opposed to just memorising it.

Want to give it a try? Podcast search engines like Audiosear.ch make it easier to sort through thousands of podcasts to find specific shows, topics, people or even direct quotes.

8. Attend lectures or readings

Attending a reading or lecture where an author discusses their book or a professor explains their latest research can be both insightful and inspiring.

Bookstores, colleges and libraries in your area may host speakers, authors, or researchers from time to time, so check their websites for any upcoming events. You can also use sites like TimeOut to find free talks and lectures in major cities.

9. Join a book club

Research shows that “deep-reading” is vigorous exercise for the brain and that people who read fiction are better at understanding others, empathising with them, and viewing the world from their perspective. Deep reading isn’t the same as casual skimming, which is why the experience of becoming immersed in a good book is so different from that of browsing popular blogs or news sites.

Of course, many of us would love to read more, but have difficulty finding the time. This is why joining a book club can be such a good idea, because it forces you to prioritise reading and make it a habit. Don’t know of any book clubs in your area? Start your own with a few friends or find an online book club.

10. Use learning apps

No matter what skill you’re hoping to learn or strengthen, there’s probably already an app out there that can help you reach your goals or at least prioritise your learning.

For instance, if you’re learning a new language, an app like Duolingo or Babbel can motivate you to spend a certain amount of time each day learning new words and reviewing what you’ve already learned.

If you want to focus on your career, an app like Mind Tools or Glassdoor might be useful.

Of course, not all apps are created equal, so before investing time or money in a particular app, it’s a good idea to check some of the reviews and see whether it would be a good fit for you.

11. Find industry networking events

Networking with other professionals in your field is another excellent way to keep your learning going, and although using online networks like Twitter and LinkedIn is certainly a good idea, nothing beats getting out there and meeting people face-to-face.

So keep your eye out for networking events happening in your area. Websites like MeetUp, Eventbrite, or even Facebook are also good for finding relevant networking events to attend. If you work in education, be sure to check out our list of innovation conferences happening in 2017.

12. Get a side hustle

If your main job leaves you with a lot of extra time, taking on a side project can help you do more than just earn a bit of extra cash. You’ll learn new skills, gain additional experience, expand your network and even increase your confidence. It can also be a low-risk way of test driving a new career.
So if you’ve got time to spare, think about your hobbies or some of the skills you’re not utilising as much as you’d like to in your current job. Are you good at designing websites, writing and editing content, or even baking cakes?

Once you know what you want to do, you can start advertising your services online or use third party sites like Upwork, Gigwalk and Task Rabbit to connect with potential clients.

13. Find a mentor

Having a chance to learn from someone who has a lot more experience than you is invaluable at any point in your career, but even more so when you’re just starting out. Finding a mentor will help you develop your strengths, recognise your weaknesses, and also connect with other industry professionals.

So how can you go about finding a mentor? Some companies have formal mentoring programs, but if yours doesn’t, there might be someone in your professional network who is willing to mentor you.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who works in your company, although this is often a good place to start your search. If your network is limited, you can also try one of the online platforms that help to connect mentors and mentees.

14. Rediscover your local library

With so much information now freely available online, very few people visit their local libraries anymore. This is a shame considering that aside from books, libraries often also provide many other useful resources like lectures, courses and tutorials, free Wi-Fi, resume help, and ancestry information.

Of course, aside from all these resources, one of the most important things your local library can provide is a quiet environment where you can focus on your reading and learning without any distractions.

15. Improve your critical reading skills

Considering how easy it has become for anyone to share their thoughts and opinions online, it’s hardly surprising that we’re seeing more instances of facts being twisted or misreported, unverified rumours spreading like wildfire, and even news stories being faked entirely.

So if you want your self-directed learning to be effective, the ability to read critically is essential. You need to be able to examine the evidence being presented, examine the author’s interpretations of the evidence, and also check any influences on arguments or limitations of a study’s design.

If you’d like more advice on how to read critically and assess the credibility of your sources, here are eight tips for honing your fact-checking skills.


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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