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Be a Lifetime Learner

Think about it. We go to school and learn all these things, good and bad, useful and interesting, relevant and things we can drop into party conversations, and then we graduate, and then, nothing. Somehow we are “done” with education.

Does that make sense?

No.

In truth, we learn all our lives. We learn on the job. We learn in our relationships. We learn what it means to be a better friend, a parent, a spouse, a caretaker. We learn hobbies. We learn constantly about the world around us.

However, this kind of post-school learning tends to be unstructured. We leave behind the lectures and reading assignments of school for “life lessons.” All those years spent learning how to take notes and learn new ideas can seem almost wasted.

But that’s not true. In today’s world being a lifetime learner with structured learning is incredibly easy and inexpensive. Even better, it doesn’t involve mind-numbing tests, ego-crushing grades, or being called on by the teacher right when you were checking your Twitter account.

With the internet and other digital media, we don’t have to go to a classroom; we can turn our world into a classroom anytime and anywhere we like.

Reading

There’s nothing obviously “digital” in reading a book, until you remember that a book doesn’t have to be made of paper and ink anymore.

There are millions, literally, of online books that have fallen out of copyright and into public domain as well as contemporary books that authors have made available for free. These include great works of literature, travel books, how-to books, technical books, business books (especially through Kindle and other eBook subscriptions), and pretty much everything else you can imagine.

Audio Books

Don’t forget that “reading” doesn’t have to mean staring at words on a page. Do you have a commute? Do you work out at a gym or walk/jog around your neighborhood? Do you have a hobby like crafting that engages your hands but leaves your ears free?

Instead of listening to talk radio or Maroon 5, listen to audio books. You can check them out of the library, download audio books from many websites, and use audible.com.

Google Scholar

Once you’ve really honed in on a topic, general-audience articles stop being enough. Much of the best university-level research requires a paid subscription, but Google Scholar is invaluable for summaries and abstracts of research articles without having to commit your credit card.

Free Online Courses

Check out Coursera.org, Khan Academy, and MIT Open Sourceware. Such places offer top-notch educational materials for people who are willing to do the work.

Much of the material on these sites and others like them actually comes from early attempts by these organizations to offer online courses people would have to pay for. What these organizations discovered was that the work, as offered, requires more dedication and self-direction than the average student wants to apply. Take advantage of all that learning with your own determination to educate yourself.

Great Courses

Finally, if you’re willing to invest a little money, try The Great Courses (thegreatcoursesplus.com), which offers structured courses on a broad variety of topics. It has special sales and other discounts on hundreds of programs with audio and video lectures and other course materials.

And while free stuff is tempting, there is something to be said about the commitment to a program, even of just few dollars, to keep you honest.