by Melanie Greene

Why keep on learning?

You may not realise that a lot of the time you are learning without really trying. Whenever you buy a new car or a piece of equipment, you need to learn how the different functions operate or how to put it together (or not!). Over the years, you may have learned new hobbies or sports, or developed new interests.

At work, there might have been new computer or admin systems to master, new teams, colleagues or managers to adapt to, and new roles and tasks to perform.

The reasons for keeping on learning, over and above what you might subconsciously be doing, are many:

  • To keep ahead of the game, if you want promotions and bonuses
  • To keep up with technological or organisational changes
  • To keep motivated and have a sense of satisfaction at work
  • To make life easier by being more effective and efficient.

As the world of work tends to be constantly changing, it requires us to change and learn; by gaining a deeper understanding of the process of learning, you will be able to make the process easier and more enjoyable.

Surely I am too old to learn?

Some people fall into the habit of thinking they’re too old to learn – that leopards can’t change their spots. Fortunately, we are not leopards; we can change ourselves if we want to. Just think about all the retired people who take up new hobbies or all the silver surfers who learn to use computers during retirement.

Age is a state of mind – if we want or need to change, we can. In fact, some research shows that older people, because they bring more experience to a situation, can often be better learners. However, it depends on what they are learning. When it comes to memorising, younger learners have a head start, but by using particular memorising techniques you can improve your ability to memorise things. Also, much of today’s learning involves having to understand things rather than memorise them. This is where older learners have an advantage, because they have better developed thinking skills and a range of experiences to draw upon.

How do really successful people learn?

Do successful people consciously learn or are they just naturals?

In order to be a success, you need to learn from all the different situations in which you find yourself. Successful people are not necessarily luckier or more intelligent, but one thing they usually have in common is that they do not give up. If they experience a failure, they learn from it and move on, taking their learning forward. The also-rans tend to be those people who are often discouraged by mistakes and failures, letting such things undermine their confidence and therefore making them apt to give up.

There is the example of Edison who, when developing the light bulb, is said to have failed 99 times to create a light bulb as he tried out numerous materials, but who carried on until he succeeded. If he had given up after ten or 20 goes, and if he had not learned from all those previous attempts, someone else would have been credited with the invention.

Abraham Lincoln failed twice at running a business, seven times in his attempt to get elected for Congress and other political offices and was finally elected President of the United States when he was 51.