Henry Ford, industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company, said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
If you were asked to come up with a definition for lifelong learning, what would it be? When you think of a lifelong learner, does a particular person you know stand out as someone who exemplifies lifelong learning?
Lifelong learning is typically defined as the ongoing, voluntary, pursuit of knowledge and skills for personal, or professional reasons.1 The concept of lifelong learning has become of vital importance with the rise of new technologies. These technologies change how we receive and gather information, collaborate with others, and communicate. Being a lifelong learner can help us adapt to these constant changes.
I find myself thinking of my dad. When it came to computers and the digital age, my dad was not an early adopter. He preferred to ignore technology and carry on with business as usual. To be fair, he did try - kind of. He had one of those huge old desktop computers, which mostly collected dust. It became the object of his scorn. He did manage to find some enjoyment in playing Solitaire. More often than not, though, you would hear him grumble that the computer would make a better boat anchor.
He wasn’t opposed to learning new things altogether though. In his mid-sixties, he decided he wanted to learn how to make wine. He researched how to do it. He purchased the supplies he needed. It didn’t take long before he was on his way to making wine. A lot of wine. More wine than any human really should make. And definitely not the kind of wine that was suited to give away to people! He loved the idea of being able to “do things on the cheap”. He was quite proud of being thrifty. When I think about it, I believe this was what motivated him to learn many new things over the course of his lifetime. Maybe you know someone like this? In adulthood, we have to want to learn something new. It has to fulfill a purpose. No one is going to make sure you learn how to make wine, or for that matter, learn how to use a computer. It is all up to you...or not.
Over his lifetime, my dad would build two houses which I had the privilege of growing up in. Imagine all the learning that happened over the course of building two houses. Imagine all the problem solving! In his forties, he learned how to skate. He joined an old-timer’s hockey league. This was driven solely by his passion for the game of hockey. His motivation in this case was not about being thrifty or saving money. It was purely for enjoyment. He also learned to golf, spending every day he could trying to master his game. The learning of these new skills also created new social circles for him and lifetime friends.
When it came to the digital age, he shied away from it. Choosing to go to the teller instead of using the ATM. Preferring to use a landline instead of a smart phone. Electing to hand write letters instead of using email. I wonder if he thought he was too old to learn new technology? Somehow, I don’t think so. I think he just wasn’t motivated to learn because he managed fine without it. As a society, we used to have the attitude that we reached our intellectual capacity at a certain point. That we were unable to learn later in life. In more recent times, we have come to find that this is not true. It’s true that our brain shrinks as we age, but because we have so much brain matter that we don’t use, we are able to make new neurological networks every time we learn something new, for as long as we live. Watch Bill Clinton talk about lifelong learning and the brain in this brief video.
According to the Alzheimer's Society, it is estimated that more than a million Canadians will suffer from Alzheimer's disease by 2030. To me, that is a shocking statistic. There is hope, and there is something we can do about it. Just like we exercise our bodies, we can exercise our brains by learning something new. It is believed that exercising the brain may preserve it by slowing or even preventing mental decline. 2
One way we can exercise our brains is by participating in community programs. Community programs can serve to engage adult learners and foster their cognitive health. As a community literacy coordinator, I organize iPad classes in my community. The adult learners who attend come with a wide range of knowledge, skills, abilities, and confidence levels. What these lifelong learners all have in common is the desire to learn and improve their iPad skills. Their goals range from learning how to use email, to taking and editing photos, to using the internet, and beyond. In addition to gaining some skills in class, learners are improving the quality of their lives. Yes, a few iPad classes can enhance your life!
I think my dad would have enjoyed learning the iPad. I can picture him using it to play games, staying up to date on his favourite sports and perhaps listening to a podcast or two. Whether you’re twenty or eighty, learning a new sport, how to build a house, or use your iPad - take a page out of Henry Ford’s book, keep learning and stay young!
Curious about programs in your community to keep your lifelong learning alive? Check out your local CBAL Community Literacy Calendar for free programs, workshops and events.
Community Literacy Coordinator – Salmo
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy
- Grady, D., (2012, March 7). Exercising an aging brain. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/08/business/retirementspecial/retirees-are-using-education-to-exercise-an-aging-brain.html