The lifelong benefits of lifelong learning

May 16, 2018

Lifelong learning according to the oracle that is Wikipedia is "the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons".

I would take this to mean that it is what we do after we have finished our “compulsory” education – we have been through school and possibly gained a third level qualification to access a career path. It can be considered to encompass the things we do for personal and professional development. What will enhance our skills set, help us secure and improve our performance in our current jobs and attain our next role? Also, what will make us happy and enhance our lives in and outside of work?

More and more importance is being placed by both staff and employers on their learning: on the job, in the classroom and informally. It has been linked with staff retention, higher individual and team morale, meeting of targets and goals, improved performance and more.

Some employers have taken a novel approach to personal development by gifting staff money or course vouchers that can only be used for non-work pursuits from yoga to languages to art: the idea being that a happy worker is a productive worker and crucially someone who will stay with the organisation. Someone with diverse or unusual skills may be able to offer something unique to the team or the organisation.

That’s all well and good but what about the more serious stuff. Yours truly undertook a Masters degree by distance learning a few years ago in an area not at all related to what I was working in – it was purely to get some “me-time” while I was on maternity leave but also with a view to the future: I might go that direction sometime and I might use it.

The truth is that I didn’t really use it in terms of the content or subject matter. It was a fascinating and unbelievably challenging and rewarding two years juggling a young baby, full-time work, as well as all the other things life threw at me in that time…and there was a lot. Add to that finding time to study and access modules online along with researching and writing assignments and a thesis to deadlines.

To say that it helped my time management and workload planning skills would be an understatement. There were times the alarm clock went off practically in the middle of the night so I could squeeze in a couple of hours study before the school drop off and work. My bedtime was in the early hours of the morning. Coffee and chocolate biscuits were constant features on my desk and my uniform was my PJs or on more glamourous days, my tracksuit. This is the joy and freedom of self-study.

I have applied these skills to my workplace, not to mention in my hobbies, personal and home life. I can plan anything with military precision and make a list and pack a bag like nobody else. My family quite likely dread my approach at what are supposed to be fun times like a walk with the dog or a holiday: all will probably be prefaced with a spreadsheet, catering plan or other logistical, tactical planning.

On the upside I have gained the confidence that I can do anything I set my mind to and undertaken more pursuits for myself since then. Whereas before I would have approached most things with the “I haven’t got time” attitude, now it’s more with the awareness of the old adage that “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. Since completing the MA I thought I didn’t have time to do, I have completed other recreational evening classes, started new hobbies, started volunteering in my community, completed a fundraising project and hopefully been of more benefit to my employers too. I have also met some lovely people and made new friends and contacts along the way.

Lifelong learning is ongoing in every sense – it encompasses the new courses and classes we might do from year to year but it is also the learning we take with us from one area of our lives to the next. It is always interesting to see where a seemingly odd and disparate mix of skills and learning can coincide to give an edge at interview or make you the perfect candidate for a job or project or even just an interesting person to talk to socially. Once you have the qualification, it can’t be taken away so get searching for your next pursuit. There is always time.

Amy Dawson is in the Member Services team of Chartered Accountants Ireland who provide numerous specialist qualifications many of which are available by either classroom or distance learning, hopefully making it even easier to find the time to do one!