You deserve to take care of yourself academically. It sounds weird, though, right? When we’re teens or young adults, we long to the escape classroom and get on with life. But we should never stop learning.
You Don’t Have to Go to College
“What are college credits?” one of my students asked during Econ class.
“It’s the way colleges and universities keep track of what classes you’ve taken. They use the credits to decide whether or not you qualify for a degree.”
“You mean college isn’t like high school where we all take mostly the same classes?”
“Nope. College is so much more fun than high school,” I assured them. “If you go to a liberal arts college, you’ll have to take a few required classes in topics you might not love, but you get to spend most of your time learning about the things you love the most.”
“I don’t like math,” another student called out, “would I have to take four years of math?”
“Only if you want to earn a math major,” I assured him. “You would probably need three or four credits of math—that’s just one math class for one quarter—and you’d never have to take another math class.”
“Why can’t high school be like college?” he whined. “I hate math.”
I laughed. “High school gives you a basis for succeeding at entry-level jobs or college,” I explained. None of my students had family members who had gone on to college. “If you’d like to improve your economic stability, you might want to consider college.”
“She means flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant when she says entry-level jobs,” someone said under their breath to the student next to them.
“Each of you has the potential to do well in college if you want to go,” I assured them. “Even a two-year degree, especially in a STEM area, will improve your economic stability. But if you don’t think you can go to college,” I paused and looked around the room. Maybe one of them would go to college. The wasted potential felt like a physical blow to my chest. “But you can all commit to being a lifelong learner.”
“What’s that?” the first student asked.
“It just means you find ways to keep learning your entire life. You could take one class at a time, take classes online, develop your curiosity and learn from YouTube.”
“I like reading,” a quiet student spoke up for the first time. “Can I just read books?”
I smiled. “You’re talking my language. Yes, reading books helps you learn—especially if you read non-fiction books about a wide variety of subjects. My grandpa never went to college, but he knew everything about science. He even built his own telescope.”
“You live in the information age,” I told them, “and with all the information out there you carry around in your pockets, you can learn to do anything.”
“I’ll probably have to stay home and take care of my little brothers and sisters next year,” a quiet girl in the back of the class said wistfully, just loud enough for me to hear. Other students nodded.
“You never have to stop learning,” I said. “If you remember nothing else, remember to keep on learning.” The bell rang, and students rushed to put their things away.
School vs. Learning
You deserve to take care of yourself academically—even if you grew up hating school. Psychologists classify learning into several categories: formal learning, informal learning, and incidental learning.
Think of formal learning as reaching a destination via your favorite airlines. You buy a ticket, go through security, get on their airplane, and arrive at your destination. The pilot or airline company, not you, decides how fast to fly the airplane, which route to take, and what to serve on board (both beverages and entertainment). College classes for academic credit work the same way—only you have to do the work in order to ‘get off the plane’ at the end.
Informal learning happens when you decide to reach your destination by driving instead of flying. It may take longer, but you get to plan your route, make stops when you feel like it, and enjoy numerous sights and experiences along the way.
Incidental learning takes place when you learn something without thinking about it. For example, you learn about the climate of Africa while watching a nature program on lions for entertainment.
No matter what kind of learning you do, you need to never stop learning! Check out these four reasons you deserve to take care of yourself academically.
1. Avoid Dementia
Yes, you really do lose what you don’t use. “Research has shown that people with more education are less likely to have dementia in old age.” If you want to keep your mind sharp as you age, you’ll need to make sure you never stop learning. While I know of people who earned their college degrees well into their 70s, you don’t need to go to school to learn.
Read or listen to history books, biographies, and science books. I listened to a biography about Albert Einstein and still only understand the very basics of why he won a Nobel Prize. But I knew a whole lot more than before I listened to the book!
You can take classes from Great Courses, Coursera, Domestika, or through community education classes offered by your local school district or community college.
2. You Deserve to be Self-Confident
According to Marjan Laal, in an article for Social and Behavioral Sciences, “[Lifelong learning] helps [us] to gain confidence in [our] ability to learn and to share the information with others; gain confidence in who we are and what we have to offer.”
Finnish researchers surveyed thousands of adults who participated in adult liberal arts classes and discovered learning improved self-confidence.
If you feel unsure of yourself, a course of study (both formal or informal) will leave you feeling more confident in your abilities. People with low self-confidence may experience exhaustion, risk aversion, an inability to cope with criticism, feelings of burnout, an inability to meet goals, depression, and relational failures.
You deserve better. Taking care of yourself academically will improve your self-confidence.
3. Improve Your Social Capital
According to the BeLL Study, lifelong learning increased participants’ social capital, which in turn helped them feel as if they had better control of their lives. The sense of control facilitated improved health and relationships with family and coworkers.
The improved social capital most likely stems from the improved self-confidence learning new things gives people. When we feel good about ourselves, we avoid acting like a victim.
4. You Deserve to be Nice
Ok, I don’t have a study to quote on this one. Instead, I draw my conclusions based on my own experience. The nicest, most open-minded people I know never stop learning. They take an interest in the world around them and ask questions rather than blindly believing others’ opinions.
Nice people can see many sides to an issue, based on their wide reading and ability to see things from different perspectives. Instead of falling back on stereotypes and lies, they learned in school (yes, schools tell lies—especially in history classes), nice people read from a wide variety of perspectives and worry more about understanding than judging.
You deserve to take care of yourself academically so you can continue growing, learning, and enlarging your understanding of the world. Trust me, staying in your comfort zone takes little effort, but you’ll miss out on a whole new world of relationships, ideas, understanding, and yes, niceness.
How to Fit Learning into Your Life
Let’s face it. Not many people have the bank account or time to return to school—even for one class a semester or quarter—for the rest of their lives. But you can find time to sneak learning into your schedule. You’ll reap the benefits of taking care of yourself academically without worrying about returning to school. Remember, we learn formally, informally, and incidentally.
- Listen while you—. You fill in the blank. I listen to biographies and history tomes while driving. Informative podcasts make the miles fly by while I run. I needed continuing education credits for my teaching credential and found a website for history teachers which offers certificates of completion for auditing (and taking online quizzes) over university history courses. I spent a lot of time commuting to doctor’s appointments and the physical therapist this spring and managed to pass three classes in two months.
- Instead of binging on Netflix fiction—. I love a good romcom, but Netflix has more than fiction. Check out the many science and nature programs. Schedule in something non-fiction once a week. Who knows what you’ll learn?
- YouTube to the rescue! I bought a 2007 FJ Cruiser last summer, and it’s needed some pricey repair jobs. Lucky me, I have my husband and he has YouTube. He performed thousands of dollars in repairs for under $300 in parts. You can learn all kinds of skills by watching YouTube videos. Just try not to get sucked into the black hole of funny cat clips.
- Alternate sources of education. Local community colleges, school districts, libraries, and clubs offer lectures, low-cost classes, and mentoring. I taught Spanish to adults for several years for the local school district in Reno, NV.
You Deserve it!
You deserve to take care of yourself academically (even if you don’t feel like it). The benefits of lifelong learning far outweigh the work needed to access continuing education.
What is your favorite way to learn outside the walls of the classroom?