Learning for the Sake of It In The Digital Age
How the internet continues to be a wealth of knowledge for those who seek it.
In one of my final classes in college, I remember a professor urging us all to continue to learn as we stepped outside of the world of structure and into the world of day jobs. He urged us to find something we enjoyed doing rather than something we just accepted as a professions that will carry us through our lives. I suppose it’s the job of the educator to promote continued education, but the impact it had on me was lasting. And it made me realize that many college students just stop learning for the sake of curiosity after their last class.
The older I get, the more that I realize that there’s nothing more satisfying than learning. Despite many young children’s disdain for the classroom, the consensus among happy adults is that learning not only improves happiness, but also leads to a more fulfilling life. According to the Harvard Business Review, lifelong learning has a positive impact on the finances, physical and mental wellbeing, and social connections of those who practice it.
In my time outside of college, I’ve truly begun to appreciate the value of learning as time races past me. New skills, new perspectives, and new topics are all commonly explored areas for lifelong learners who look to continue their education either independently or through the abundance of courses available to them. Although a university education is still incredibly valuable, those who can find the motivation are also capable of learning entirely on their own via a channel that has only become available for learning in the last 20 years: the internet. Places like Skillshare have been around for 10 years and have really come into their own to dominate the space in the last few years. YouTube, ever the enigma, has been touted as a place for learning in spite of all of its many distractions and unfortunate abundance of misinformation. Now big companies are willing to develop trainings for prospective employees, offering certifications for free that boost the likelihood of trainees’ success in getting a job from these companies.
Universities have gotten in on the online education action as well with big name schools like Harvard having offered a handful of their classes online for free. Giving the broader public access to such a high level of education has opened the door for people to continue to learn. Now there are universities that offer a majority of their classes online, creating a completely online version of their degree. There are some universities which pride themselves on maintaining a mostly online education as the flagship of their university. Arizona State University, while maintaining its in-person presence in the Phoenix area, also offers an online education to those who need the added flexibility that it allows.
More importantly than a more accessible traditional higher education is the vast availability of knowledge shared by humanity. The internet’s greatest strength is in offering a well of information that is both broad and deep. As ever, the problem is cutting through the noise and remaining diligent about what information is accurate and what is not.
Luckily, it’s now possible to research, find, and start reading a book all in a matter of seconds with the strides Amazon has made in making books more broadly available to consumers. The long-standing hierarchy of publishing also makes reading many of these books more of an opportunity to gain perspective about a writer whose perspective has been vetted, rather than a random person on the internet (yes, I’m aware of the irony).
Most importantly, the key to lifelong learning is to be learning what you enjoy to learn about. Learning about what interests you and learning about things that you’d never otherwise understand help to broaden your horizons and escape the echo chambers that it’s so easy to get sucked into in the age of social media. Learning new things, and learning new perspectives. Perilous to rely on a single source, but infinitely rewarding with enough information.