Lifelong learners are often the most successful people. Long after they’ve stopped the routine of getting ready to go back to school in August, they continue to gain new knowledge—just outside the classroom. And there are so many resources available today, from free online learning to library books, that it’s easy to keep learning. Here are some of the benefits that come with keeping this lifestyle.
It keeps your mind sharp.
Learning a new skill or hobby keeps you young. One easy place to start is reading. While many stop reading for pleasure after they’ve left school, lifelong learners are readers by definition. One sure-fire way to gain new information is by picking up a book. You can enjoy your local public library for free! Additionally, the days of lecture halls don’t have to end. You can sharpen your mind by attending readings and lecture series. Many are put on by universities are open to the general public.
The Tanana-Yukon Historical Society offers a winter lecture series featuring local and state historical topics. Against the scenic backdrop of Pioneer Park, it convenes on the third Wednesday of each month to discuss Alaska’s rich heritage. Past lectures have included “Gold Rush Ice Train: George Glover and the US Government’s Unlikely Attempt to Conquer the North by Steam,” “On Whose Terms? Indian Chiefs and White Settlement in the Tanana Valley,” and “Where’s Chena? Revisited.”
It makes you happier.
There’s no shortage of advice out there about how to achieve happiness. It seems like everyday there’s a new podcast or app about how to be more positive. But as it turns out, being a lifelong learner can actually safeguard your mental health. This is because beyond helping with your general cognition (keeping your brain healthy and strong), being a student life helps your outlook. The opposite of anxiety is curiosity. By approaching the unknown with curiosity rather than fear, you can reframe the negative into something positive.
Spotlight: Khan Academy
While it’s geared towards homework help, Khan Academy isn’t just for kids. They offer free online courses covering all grade levels and beyond (they even have courses in personal finance!). This makes it a great way to get back into the groove of learning. Get a refresher in skills you’ve always want to be better at, whether it’s literature, math, science or history - or take up a new skill like coding. What makes it different from other video resources like YouTube is it’s focused and curated, so you’re getting something with a bit more structure behind it. You’ll feel great watching yourself tick off each goal.
It connects you to the community.
In our busy world, many of us lament not knowing our neighbors or feeling quite part of a community. But being a lifelong learner actually creates opportunities to connect with others. Think back to your school days: it was never easier to meet people and fall into friendships. This is because the school environment makes the perfect backdrop for regular, unplanned socializing. When you think about it, it makes sense that people would open up more naturally when they’re working towards a common goal. Taking classes - whether it’s in cooking, art, or continuing education - puts you back in that social incubator.
The Summer Sessions & Lifelong Learning department at University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a variety of programming for the both students and the public. Each summer they host free lectures, concerts and activities. While their current session is wrapping up, you can catch them again in January for their WINTERmester community lecture. Topics have covered everything from bluegrass to testosterone to subarctic farming!
It increases resilience.
One of the best predictors of life satisfaction is resilience - the ability to adapt and bounce back from unexpected situations. It’s an admirable trait, but one that can be hard to learn and put into practice. You may be surprised to learn that a benefit of learning new things is that it increases resilience. This is because the pursuit of knowledge can help build applicable skills that will come in handy all your life. This is where online courses are a great resource. There’s lots of valuable, free information out there if you know where to look.
Part of a growing trend of e-learning and MOOCs (that’s Massive Open Online Courses), edX is just one resource for learning from home. They offer courses in pretty much every subject area, as well as programs specifically for degree-seekers or people looking to advance their career path. Whether you’re considering a change of pace, looking to freshen up your skills or just try something new, sites like edX are a great way to learn on your own schedule. Best of all, many courses are completely free.
It keeps you open to new experiences.
By the same token, being a lifelong learner makes you more open to different experiences. Many people put themselves in a box. They’re afraid they’d look silly if they step out of their comfort zone. They might shy away from taking a class if they’re the oldest student in the room. Or they may lose motivation if they aren’t good at something on the first try. But there’s a first time for everything, and things that are now second nature to you were once new. By seeking out knowledge, you’ll find yourself in unusual situations and building confidence.
The Sheldon Jackson Museum in another place to explore if you’re in Sitka. Home to a Native Artist Residency program, the museum is one of the oldest in the state. (As an example of the kind of hands-on learning you can get up to there, they’re currently holding a traditional Cup’ik doll making class taught by artist in residence Neva Mathias). Admission is $7 general and $6 for seniors.
It makes you more interesting.
We all know sparkling conversationalists who are always read to inject the perfect fact or anecdote into the dialog. These people are interested in things, which in turn makes them interesting. Often, talking about ourselves can be a barrier to meeting new people. You might feel like you trip over questions about pastimes, or you might feel like you don’t have much to talk about. Learning something new and sharing it with those around you can be an unexpected point of connection. You might feel like school was the time to discover your passions, but this is actually the best time to pick up a new hobby.
Spotlight: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Southeast Alaska, and others
In partnership with the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska, the ADF&G provides hands-on workshops for adults to learn outdoor skills in a supportive environment. Becoming an Outdoors-Woman or BOW offers courses in hunting, fishing and other topics within survival like first aid, meat processing and even knot tying. Picture yourself as someone who can mush dogs or scuba dive! Workshops are held on a weekend in winter, summer and spring (courses and availability will vary, so check their schedule and registration.) It’s an inclusive environment, with participants ranging in age from 18 to 85.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot.
Learning doesn’t have to come in the form of a degree. It can be inexpensive and even free. The Internet has many free resources for learning something new. There are articles, video tutorials and even classes. Learners at every stage of life can take online courses or self-teach. A common trait of lifelong learners is to make a point to learn about wherever you visit. Even if it’s your own backyard, take an investigative eye to the places you go. Learn more about your own area and see your town in a new light. One great place to expand your mind is museums. Many are free or have reduced rates for seniors.
The Alaska State Museum in Juneau is a great place for a day outing that’s educational and fun. Their Fall 2019 / Spring 2020 exhibition calendar is can’t miss. The All Alaska Biennial is a juried exhibition celebrating Alaska artists with everything from printmaking to metalsmithing. Cruisin’ The Fossil Coastline is the work of artist Ray Troll and paleontologist Kirk Johnson, who traveled the coastline searching for fossils. Admission is $12 general, $11 dollars for 65+, and you can get in free on First Fridays from 4:30 - 7 PM!
How Denali supports learners like you
We want to encourage all our members to continue to learn. There are so many resources in Alaska, so you can find something suited to your needs. You can also keep an eye out on our blog, where we post resources and financial tips for our members.