I’ve titled this post with that common saying because while it is overused, it still captures something important about life. We are continually learning, without even trying much of the time, but a lot of people feel like the effortful learning that we do in school, college and university should end there.
However, many studies have shown that people who continue to study and learn throughout their life are more fulfilled and maintain a healthier brain as they age.
Now, it’s nice enough that we can know that, but what should we do about it? There are thousands of subjects and divisions within those subjects that we can learn and specialise in. I’ll use coding as an example.
If you decide to learn coding, where should you start? Some say Python is an easy coding language to learn, others say C# is more in demand and will teach you better methods. Others love Ruby on Rails for its quick development time and others think you should go all in on Java to be truly cross-platform.
The truth is that it really doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start with something that sparks interest in you. It doesn’t matter which specific area you start in because they are all mostly very similar, and rules and logic that apply to one often apply to others. They each have their own little idiosyncrasies and methods that make them special, but ultimately they are not very different from one another. And the really good news is that once you’ve grasped one of them, the others will come more easily, so even if you later realise that a different one will be more beneficial to you, you won’t really have wasted your time.
When we spend time learning things and overcoming new challenges, we are not only growing, but we are also priming our minds for similar learning. When you start over on something in the same area that is a little different, like learning Ruby after Python, you’ll start recognising patterns and rules that transfer across and pick things up faster than before.
The only way we could be wasting time learning is if we are not learning in a particularly good way. There have been studies that show that re-reading a textbook chapter, highlighting/underlining or making notes as you go along is not even close to the effectiveness of recall and testing. These methods are in completely different leagues in helping you learn. I didn’t know that years ago, but I did know that highlighting text didn’t feel like it was useful, and it really wasn’t.
If you really want to make the most of learning (and you should), then I would highly recommend the Learning How To Learn course on Coursera. Barbara Oakley will teach you the best studying methods to ensure that when you do decide to learn something, you really will learn it and not trick yourself into thinking you know something when you don’t.
So go learn something new, and learn it well! Your brain will thank you for it.