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Are you at a point in your life, be it personal or professional, where you feel you’ve learnt everything there is to learn and done everything there is to do? This feeling of stagnancy can create a desire for something more – something new.
Enter lifelong learning: an empowering form of self-initiated education that can enhance your career and foster continuous personal development.
Deakin Law School senior lecturer Karen Powell says an important aspect of lifelong learning is ‘transitioning the type of learning you’ve done in school to your interests, whether they be intellectual, academic or personal, throughout your whole journey of life’.
What is lifelong learning? Put simply, it:
‘Lifelong learning depends on our person and our interests,’ says Powell. ‘It might be learning that happens in our career paths like continuing professional education. But it also engages less-formal mechanisms like learning new recipes, trying different sports, volunteering and joining professional groups – all of these things can be part of lifelong learning.’
Looking for inspiration? Start a side hustle, take on a Juris Doctor, learn a language or do a short course in digital marketing. If there’s something – anything – you want to do, engaging in lifelong learning will teach you how.
'It might be learning that happens in our career paths like continuing professional education. But it also engages less-formal mechanisms like learning new recipes, trying different sports, volunteering and joining professional groups – all of these things can be part of lifelong learning.'
Deakin Law School, Deakin University
Dr Vicki Huang, Deakin Law School senior lecturer, says lifelong learning helps us navigate an increasingly complex personal and professional world.
‘It’s part of the human condition to learn new things, which is critical to avoid repeating mistakes and to live our best lives,’ she says. ‘As adults we now live in a world saturated with information. How we integrate or reject that information is part of our mature learning process and is affected by our past experiences.’
Powell agrees, explaining lifelong learning inspires a powerful sense of curiosity that helps carry us through a changing world. ‘Lifelong learning can transition us from what we know early on to the new world that we have now,’ she says.
And, of course, learning new things offers a host of career benefits, even if the journey between the two isn’t always clear-cut. Powell says her 20-year career as a lawyer and community service worker taught her valuable skills that she’s able to put into practice teaching the next crop of legal professionals.
‘Lifelong learning has given me the opportunity to try a huge number of different types of professional experiences as well as be involved in community service work,’ she says.
‘It’s been a lifelong cycle of being able to take my professional experiences working with clients, working with communities, working with real people to make real change around legal issues, and bringing that all the way through 30 years later to help students of a new generation learn how to do that.’
So, how can you engage in lifelong learning?
Powell suggests starting small. ‘Like learning any new skill, I always suggest breaking it down into very manageable chunks,’ she says. ‘Instead of thinking, “How do I engage with lifelong learning in my life journey path?” it’s more about doing small things every day or every week.’
‘Ask yourself: “Can I transition to something that’s just a little bit more challenging than what I did last week or last year?” I always encourage my students in their professional careers to bite off a little bit more than they’re comfortable with and to try to move outside their comfort zone by just a little bit. It might involve taking a skill and translating it to a new media or learning a new way of doing something.’
Dr Huang suggests using future goals to guide your learning practices. ‘Try to imagine what you want your life to look like in five years’ time,’ she says. ‘What kind of job or lifestyle do you want?
‘The most important thing is trying something new and rewarding a curious mind.’
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