The Benefits of Lifelong Learning and Discovery
Don't fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have. Louis E. Boone
Do you enjoy learning? Is it a pleasure to discover new things, or do you associate the word 'learning' with being sat behind a desk at school being fed information you have no control over? Happily, as adults we can choose what we want to learn and the skills we want to develop. Learning should be a lifelong venture that should feature in all stages of your life. Even retirement should be an opportunity to try new things rather than letting it all go because you are no longer doing paid work. Recognising that learning is not just about books can make the process enjoyable for many.
Learning gives you opportunities to discover new skills and acquire knowledge. However, it offers more than that. It is an opportunity to renew your energies, get excited, and curious. As you learn and get absorbed in a new project, you are giving yourself the chance to experience flow which is a sure-fire way to happiness. Learning can help prevent boredom as you have allowed more opportunities to come into your life. Importantly, you will learn things about yourself. As you develop your skills, it may take you to new places and perhaps push you to face your fears. You will learn to not be afraid of change and how to face a challenge.
Love of learning has been identified by Seligman as one of the 24 character strengths. It is a strength that we can all nurture, however for some it is a signature strength and as such is a pleasure to use. Using this strength is also an opportunity to work on and develop other character strengths. For instance learning a new skill requires persistence. It is a chance to be creative and boost a sense of optimism. When you always have new things to try in your life, things you still want to know about, you continue to have something to look forward to.
Learning is also good for your brain. Research indicates that for people who had opportunities to work on their reasoning and memory skills their cognitive decline had slowed down. This reduces the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
It is worth pointing out that it is not just about the act of learning. What you learn can help you live a better life. For instance, knowing how to be happy, healthy and live well. Knowing why exercise is important rather than accepting it as a broad statement made by health experts. Such knowledge gives you more control over your life and helps you make informed decisions.
Tips to propel you on your learning quest
The term recognises that learning is not confined to childhood or the classroom, but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations. During the last fifty years, constant scientific and technological innovation and change has had a profound effect on learning needs and styles. Learning can no longer be divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply the knowledge acquired (the workplace).
Lifelong learning may be most usefully thought of as a policy response by largely western governments to a changing world. These underlying changes are a move away from manufacturing to a services economy, the emergence of the knowledge economy and the decline of many traditional institutions which has been requiring individuals to become more active in managing their lives.
This has led to the realization that formal learning, typically concentrated in the earlier stages of life, can no longer sustain an individual throughout their life.
In a book by Christopher Day, published in 1998, Developing Teachers: The Challenge of Lifelong Learning, there was recognition towards the role of teachers in inculcating lifelong learning in the formal teachings of his/her students while at the same time realising the need for teachers to practice lifelong learning, in order to develop themselves as well. Through this realisation, that throughout a teachers/educators professional being, lifelong learning is a must.
In October 2006 the European Commission published a Communication entitled "Adult learning: It is never too late to learn." This document suggests lifelong learning to be the core of the ambitious Lisbon 2010-process, in which the whole of the European Union should become a learning area. In December 2007, the European Parliament's Committe on Culture and Education published a "Report on Adult learning: It is never too late to learn", which recognized the Commission Communication and a number of related recommendations and resolutions, and which urged member states to establish a lifelong learning culture.
In 2008, the OECD published an article entitled "Recognition of non-formal and informal learning in OECD countries: A very good idea in jeopardy?" which advocates a pragmatic approach to formal recognition of informal and non-formal learning. The author bases the distinctions between 'formal', 'informal' and 'non-formal' learning on three criteria.  The article points out that 'qualification' and 'certification' are "not very useful" in making the distinction between formal and informal and non-formal learning, and should be dropped. A common understanding of the meaning of the terms, or at least a framework for definition has important implications for workers in a global labour market and participants in formal and informal/non-formal learning environments.
Now, these days the buzz word is on metacognition - thinking about thinking, a higher order of thinking, that students and learners try to achieve to be better people. In this day and age, the ability to think what beyond what others do, thinking outside the storage room where the box is placed is a must have quality where with the ability to access the internet for the plethora of information that is not only written, complements the learning experience and enables anyone and everyone to practicelifelong learning - formally and informally.
Lifelong learning contexts
Although the term is widely used in a variety of contexts its meaning is often unclear.
There are several established contexts for lifelong learning beyond traditional "brick and mortar" schooling:
Literally 'thinking about the process of knowing,' metacognition refers to "higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning."
While the study of metacognition originally gave educational psychologists insights into what differentiated successful students from their less successful peers, it is increasingly being used to inform teaching that aims to make students more aware of their learning processes, and show them how to regulate those processes for more effective learning throughout their lives.
As lifelong learning is "lifelong, lifewide, voluntary, and self-motivated" learning to learn, that is, learning how to recognize learning strategies, and monitor and evaluate learning, is a pre-condition for lifelong learning. Metacognition is an essential first step in developing lifelong learning.
In India and elsewhere, the "University of the Third Age" (U3A) provides an example of the almost spontaneous emergence of autonomous learning groups accessing the expertise of their own members in the pursuit of knowledge and shared experience. No prior qualifications and no subsequent certificates feature in this approach to learning for its own sake and, as participants testify, engagement in this type of learning in later life can indeed 'prolong active life'.
In Sweden the successful concept of study circles, an idea launched almost a century ago, still represents a large portion of the adult education provision. The concept has since spread, and for instance, is a common practice in Finland as well. A study circle is one of the most democratic forms of a learning environment that has been created. There are no teachers and the group decides on what content will be covered, scope will be used, as well as a delivery method.
Sometimes lifelong learning aims to provide educational opportunities outside standard educational systems — which can be cost-prohibitive, if it is available at all. On the other hand, formal administrative units devoted to this discipline exist in a number of universities. For example, the 'Academy of Lifelong Learning' is an administrative unit within the University-wide 'Professional and Continuing Studies' unit at the University of Delaware. Another example is the Jagiellonian University Extension (Wszechnica Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego), which is one of the most comprehensive Polish centers for lifelong learning (open learning, organizational learning, community learning).
In recent years 'Lifelong Learning' has been adopted in the UK as an umbrella term for post-compulsory education that falls outside of the UK Higher Education system - Further Education, Community Education, Work-based Learning and similar voluntary, public sector and commercial settings.
Lifelong learning professionals
As the Jagiellonian University Extension defines it, there are seven main professional profiles in the Lifelong Learning domain: