Adult Learning

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“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The process of learning is a life-long journey, and as we get older, it becomes easier to put it off and focus on our endless to-do lists. As adults, we learn very differently than when we were children. As a kid, we were motivated to learn by our teachers and parents. We had no previous experiences to compare the new information to and had very little opportunity to apply what we learned in the “real world” other than homework. As an adult, we are motivated to learn from our internal desire to improve and grow, we have years of personal experiences which help us to shape and understand new information, and we need to be able to immediately apply what we are learning to get the most out of it.

What is adult learning?

Adult learning, known as andragogy in learning and development circles, is the process of gaining new knowledge and skills focused where each learner is responsible for setting their own goals and determining how they will apply what they have learned.

When people hear the term “adult learning,” they often think of community centers where language skills or computer classes are taught. In fact, adult learning encompasses a wide range of experiences, including professional development training to enhance job performance, personal enrichment classes on the arts or topics of interest, and skills-focused learning to gain new knowledge on specific skills.

What are the benefits of adult learning?

Research has shown that focusing on learning as an adult has many benefits for individuals, including career advancement and higher income, improved mental function and memory, and overall better physical health and well-being. Further studies also show that organizations benefit greatly from providing employees with adult learning opportunities, resulting in increased performance, engagement, and innovation. Leaders who commit to lifelong learning can ensure they are ready for the changing business landscape while demonstrating the importance of professional and personal development for their teams.

One example of the benefit of lifelong learning is the story of the famous fashion designer Vera Wang. She wanted to be a champion figure skater. When this dream was not realized, she shifted her focus to studying fashion. She completed her degree in art history and began working for Vogue magazine as the fashion editor. She is most widely known for her incredible wedding gown designs. She continues taking art history and design courses to further her lifelong journey of learning and doing what she loves. Vera Wang is quoted as saying, “Success isn’t about the result; it’s about what you learn along the way.”

How to start on a journey of lifelong learning?

Whether someone has just graduated from school or is about to retire, there is always room for more learning and growth. Here are three steps to get started on a path of lifelong learning:

  1. Determine professional and personal learning goals. Write a list of professional and personal goals and consider where additional knowledge and skills are needed to reach these goals. Consider how these goals are aligned with your current path and where you want to be in one, five, and ten years. This step can be the trickiest, so start with the simple questions: “What do I love to do, what do I want to do, and what inspires me?”
  2. Research your options. There are several learning options out there, from traditional academic tacks to local classes to international online tutoring and clubs. Think of someone that you know that already has the knowledge you seek and ask them how they learned it. Be sure to read any online reviews and ask for references for learning courses with a high price tag so you are sure to get what you are promised.
  3. Align your goals with your commitment. As you look at the different choices, consider what is required and how motivated you are to complete the learning. If the benefits of the learning outweigh the costs (time, fees, etc.), then go for it and stay committed. Learning is a life-long endeavor and requires a specific plan to progress and reflect. Scheduling a daily or weekly routine in your calendar is a great way to prioritize learning goals.

What are two unique forms of adult learning?

There are two distinctly different and often unconsidered forms of adult learning that can broaden an adult’s horizons and deepen their knowledge and ideas.

The first is known as MOOC. This stands for Massive Open Online Course, which is web-based learning from some of the top universities and minds across the globe, sharing knowledge and skills at no cost. This type of adult learning requires high internal motivation to complete. It can provide anyone with a computer and internet connection with the world of knowledge. These are generally free courses to complete but charge a certificate fee.

The second is known as a mastermind. Made more widely known by Napoleon Hill in his book, “Think and Grow Rich,” the mastermind is where equally motivated and growth-focused adults meet regularly in a small group, usually focused on a specific business-related topic, to share ideas and brainstorm solutions creating a larger collective “mind” that didn’t exist before. These range in cost from free to thousands of dollars, depending on the group and the facilitator.


Adult learning is a life-long pursuit with many personal, professional, and organizational benefits that can help us all improve and grow together. To live is to learn, and when we prioritize doing both to the fullest, we are on the path to reaching our fullest potential.


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