The Many Benefits of Adult Learning

Last night I attended a junior high band concert. It started with the sixth graders who had been playing their instruments for a total of five and half weeks. Their opening piece was Hot Cross Buns.

We listened, straining to hear any semblance to Hot Cross Buns. For a few moments we thought we heard the melody. When the song was finished the crowd erupted in applause. The band instructor had them stand and bow.

It was exciting. These kids were learning to read music and play a new instrument. But even more, they had the guts to get out in front of a whole gym full of people and play.

What I took away from the evening was that we’re learning all the time. We can take an active role in it--decide what we want to learn and go for it. Or, we can just absorb what we hear on TV or form our friends  (aka rubbish).

We can go about our jobs, just doing our tasks and picking up a tip here and there. Or, we can actively reach out, by taking classes, seeking out mentors . . . you name it.

Reason to Learn

You might be saying, “Sure it’s easy for kids to learn new things. They’re in school. But I’m raising kids. I’ve got responsibilities and obligations.”

There are so many benefits of adult learning, you owe it to yourself to find the time. Here just a few.

Career. If you’re training in your field, it can help your career--and possibly your pocket book--by expanding your skills.

Health. Working your brain keeps your mind sharp, and contributes to better health.

Happiness. Studies show that using your skills makes you happier; and learning new skills boosts the body’s natural production of dopamine (you know, the feel good hormone!), states an article by the Fermanagh Rural Community Initiative.

Confidence. As you expand your skills, so expands your confidence.

Networking. It offers you a chance to build new relationships, both professional and personal.

Why we avoid learning new things

The bigger obstacle of adult learning, I believe, isn’t our other obligations, but fear. I’ve heard all these excuses from people (many times) who actually want to learn a new skill.

• I’ll feel stupid.

• What if I fail?

• I don’t know the language.

• I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of a bunch of people I don’t know

• I just can’t learn it. You know the saying, old dogs can’t learn new tricks.

Don’t let fear keep you from being more. I teach screenwriting to adults at the University of Washington--most of whom have never written a script before. All of them are nervous the first day of class. They feel uncomfortable around new people and are venturing into unexplored territory. But that changes almost instantly.

Once they let themselves put a few words on paper, and see they can tell a story, they get excited. Synapses start firing. They realize within a few classes that by putting themselves out there, they are stepping into an exciting new world with new people. It’s hard work, but the benefits are worth it. And it’s actually . . . fun!

Where to Learn

The great thing about adult learning today is that it’s everywhere. For example, if you wanted to improve your writing skills at work, you could:

• See if your company offered training.

• Find a mentor at work.

• Volunteer on projects

• Check out the local community college classes

• See if there are extension courses at the local university

• Put out a request on Craigslist for a teacher

• Find YouTube videos

• and the list goes on . . .

Don’t wait to learn. And definitely don’t let fear stand in your way. Be a sixth grader, grab your instrument and make music!

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor--with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.