When many of us think of “lifelong learners”, we get a strong mental image of a career academic, someone with wire-rimmed glasses and a tweed jacket with leather patches who spends days, weeks, months and years poring over volumes in a library and who remains in formal learning and teaching environments long after they receive their undergraduate diplomas.
But while these learned individuals can certainly qualify as lifelong learners, they don’t represent the entirety of that population. Plenty of people prioritize learning, finding new experiences and absorbing new information throughout their lifetimes without sitting behind a desk or in a lecture hall. These curious and inquisitive folks seek out opportunities to learn wherever they go and whatever they do, and as their knowledge base grows and expands, so too does their appreciation of life’s endless possibilities.
If you aspire to be a lifelong learner yourself, keep these 12 habits in mind, along with these three ways to grow your capacity for discovering, retaining and channeling information.
12 qualities lifelong learners have in common.
1. A clear sense of what interests them (and what doesn’t).
Naturally, lifelong learners should keep themselves open and available to new interests. But it can be helpful to approach your educational journey with an idea of what already intrigues you and what you’d like to investigate further. For instance, if you know that you want to learn how to speak Spanish, your study of the language may inspire other paths of study, from Spanish food to Latin art and music to methods of affordable and immersive travel.
2. A lack of apprehension about pursuing information that sparks their curiosity.
A clear sign of a lifelong learner involves a lack of fear or hesitation about seeking out knowledge. These individuals take the initiative to find out what they want to learn, and they’re not derailed by temporal concerns like “I’m too busy” or “My work life is really tough right now.” They consider learning a form of self-care, and they make it a key priority.
3. An understanding of their personal learning style.
As we mentioned previously, not all learning needs to happen in a classroom setting. Lifelong learners take time to identify the learning style that’s most appropriate for them, whether it be making discoveries through travel, binge-watching documentaries or engaging in spirited discussions during a book-club meeting.
4. A willingness to acknowledge mistakes.
Avid learners with curious minds are, by definition, the opposite of “know-it-alls.” These people don’t think that they have all of the answers already; instead, they spend their spare time in search of information, and they’re happy to add new questions to their lists. Therefore, they’re able to recognize their own errors and to glean valuable lessons from those experiences.
5. A commitment to setting and fulfilling personal goals.
Lifelong learners share a sense of self-motivation; they seek out knowledge for their own personal growth and they don’t require pressure from an employer, a teacher or any other outside force to reinforce their interest. As a result, lifelong learners are skilled goal-setters, with the ability to identify their ambitions and to set achievement plans into motion.
6. A questioning spirit and a refusal to accept everything at face value.
Generally speaking, lifelong learners aren’t contrary for the sake of being contrary. However, they’re also not inclined to accept claims without doing some independent research to verify the facts. Some call these inquisitive individuals “skeptics,” but they’re really just discerning folks who like to base their world views on information that they’ve personally gathered.
7. A love of reading and absorbing information.
To be clear: not all lifelong learners are confirmed bookworms. But even if they’re not devotees of the written word, lifelong learners find ways to gain knowledge through media consumption. Books, magazines, newspapers, NPR broadcasts, documentaries, podcasts — all viable ways for lifelong learners to stock their mental vaults.
8. An ability to recognize and confront knowledge gaps.
Lifelong learners are savvy individuals with a clear sense of their own skills and limitations. Therefore, they’re willing to admit when holes exist in their knowledge base. They seek to rectify those issues by boosting their understandings of those topics, but the first step is to acknowledge the gaps and to figure out where to find the information they lack.
9. An interest in seeking and gathering resources for further education.
Those who identify as lifelong learners aren’t complacent; even if a source of further edification isn’t available at their fingertips, they’ll still invest the time and energy necessary to discover the facts they crave.
10. A keen sense of determination and perseverance.
Learning isn’t always an easy or convenient process, but as we’ve mentioned, a lifelong learner never lets the occasional difficulty get in the way of her education. She’s determined to satisfy her curiosity and is willing to seek out all viable means of growing her information supply.
11. Finding a community of learners to support their endeavors.
People who truly love to learn and who have an insatiable appetite for knowledge frequently seek out others with similar inclinations. Lifelong learners forge strong friendships with like-minded individuals who help them with their discovery quests, and vice versa.
12. Looking for opportunities to help others.
The pursuit of educational experiences can be satisfying in and of itself, but lifelong learners also gain enormous fulfillment from sharing their knowledge and their insights with others. Some choose to tutor children, others may lead adult education courses, while still others may volunteer at a local library or cultural center, with the end goal of using their passion for information to help other people.
How can I improve my lifelong learning skills?
While many lifelong learners develop their love for knowledge naturally, it’s possible to strengthen your own capacity for learning. These three tips can help reinforce these thought patterns and energize your inherent curiosity.
1. Make learning a genuine priority in your life.
As with most other pursuits (whether obligatory or chosen), the key to improving your lifelong-learning skills is to evaluate your priorities. If you decide to make the acquisition of knowledge a non-negotiable priority, then you can configure your activities and your schedule to accommodate that goal.
2. “Learn by doing” as much as possible.
Plenty of lifelong learners thrive in academic settings, but if you’re someone who learns through activity and direct experiences, that doesn’t preclude you from qualifying as a lifelong learner. In fact, those who “learn by doing” may have a greater likelihood of retaining information and gaining usable knowledge than those who learn solely by reading and engaging in classroom education.
3. As you continue to learn, find ways to share your knowledge and curiosities with others.
Educating yourself in a bubble can make it more difficult to reconcile your lifestyle with your thirst for knowledge. Instead, try to open your learning pursuits up to friends, family, and companions. Want to take a class? See if a friend with similar interests is up for it, too. Excited to read a book about a topic that interests you? Joining a book club can bring an element of debate and conversation to the experience, which can result in a greater wealth of obtainable knowledge.