Yes, as Carole King likes to sing, "School bells are ringing." Yet, it isn't only children and young adults who should be thinking about school. Anyone in the workforce needs to be thinking about school, as well. Yes, you can pat yourself on the back for finishing a long and arduous education resulting in a degree or diploma. However, once you enter the working world, you still need to continue learning. In this case, the term 'school' is better known as 'continuous learning' or 'professional development'. But no matter what learning is called, every worker needs to make learning a lifelong passion.
Each individual needs to take responsibility for keeping their knowledge relevant and up to date. This means staying tuned to trends and new strategic directions in their field of practice. And since long-term job security no longer exists, the only real guarantee you have for a continuous job is to keep your skills current. If you don't, your skills will become outdated, rendering you less attractive as a candidate.
Engaging in continuous learning ensures you will be a valuable team member. It opens up new possibilities and job opportunities, such as being a team leader or manager or moving to a completely new job. Not only that, but continuous learning enables you to engage in a wider variety of conversations and to propose interesting ideas. People will be drawn to you because of your wide breadth of knowledge.
Those in specific professions will find continuous learning or professional development will give them a deeper understanding of their profession and enable them to reach that so-called 'expert' level of professionalism. Being known as an expert draws people to you for the knowledge you possess. Continuous learning or professional development is also a personal motivational tool that can boost your productivity and heighten your reputation.
For those in the workforce, there are plenty of opportunities and means to gain more knowledge. Sign up for corporate professional development through your employer. Seek out university or college courses and work toward a second complementary degree or diploma. Join a professional association and work toward the designation offered through this venue. But don't stop there. They are plenty of opportunities to learn through involvement with special projects, lunch and learn sessions and reading of special topic books or journals. You can volunteer for a cross-training project where you can learn another person's job so you can provide backup service when needed. And if opportunities at work are somewhat limited, you can volunteer at an agency where this new experience will allow you to build new skills.
At the same time, much research has been done to demonstrate lifelong learning is important to maintaining a healthy brain as we grow older. This has led to a growing health movement referred to as the mind/body/spirit connection where those 'after-50' adults are encouraged to focus on getting the most out of life through continuous learning.
One study demonstrated people who were most active in their later life showed a 32 per cent slower rate of decline compared to those who maintained an average level of mental activity. Those individuals who were the least active had a 48 per cent faster fall into dementia. On the other hand, a set of Stanford University researchers found doing mental exercises reduced memory loss by 30 to 50 per cent.So, what brain-related activities can you engage in? The Stanford group suggested simple activities such as crossword puzzles, word games (such as Scrabble), playing various card games, doing picture puzzles and intellectual games (such as Trivial Pursuit) as well as watching word game shows on TV can make a difference.
For those who don't want to take formal classes, consider engaging in educational travel programs where you study about the country of travel, learn the history and culture and research places to see and visit. Some readers will realize they now have the time to take those piano or guitar lessons or learn to play bridge. Many people join a book club where each member reads the same book and then meets to discuss various elements of the author's style and characters in the book. Still others will take a computer course so they can improve their technology expertise in preparation for cataloguing those family photos and preparing a genealogical history of the family.
Both our local universities offer seniors' programs in lifelong learning. These range from non-credit courses to day-long sessions on topics such as the history of Winnipeg, religion and popular culture, learning about the ideal age-friendly community, understanding the relationship between aging and Alzheimer's disease and First Nations drinking-water issues.
As well, there are many social-service and health-care agencies that offer learning programs. They range from gaining knowledge about caring for a specific disease to navigating the sandwich generation to a recent announcement on living safely with the polar bears in Churchill.
On the other hand, lifelong learning is more than intellectual stimulation. For instance, in talking to someone who has recently retired, they will often say the most significant change they experience is the loss of their social connections. It is often disconcerting to realize there is no longer anything in common with your work friends. The lack of social connections is one reason why many retirees seek to return to the workforce.
Taking advantage of lifelong learning opportunities can help develop new friendships, join new groups, learn new things and be stimulated both intellectually and socially. Lifelong learning starts right after you graduate. In fact, everyone needs to make lifelong learning a lifelong habit.
"To Avoid Dementia, Stay Mentally Active Throughout Lifetime," Maia Szalavitz, Time, Aging Well, 2013,
"How to Keep an Active Memory," Jamesa Wagwau, New Vision, Nov 25th, 2007.