This time of year, I hear a common refrain around the halls of the schools: “School will soon be over, I don’t have to learn anything all summer” or “I’m graduating, I never have to go to class again.” I get it.  Shedding the weight of rigid schedules, homework and tests has its appeal, and this time of year can be pretty darn exciting.

Phillip Potenziano, superintendent of the Brunswick School Department.

That said, I hope the excitement of summer vacation or graduation (or retirement, for that matter) won’t blur our perspective on learning. I hope our students (and all of us) will find that learning is a lifelong endeavor filled with joy and excitement. The fact is, we are always learning new things. As adults, our jobs change and we learn new responsibilities and systems. If we discover a new hobby, don’t we immerse ourselves in learning how to do it right?

And young people, who think they stop learning when school ends, surely recognize that when the newest phone or computer comes out, they are the first to learn and understand it backward and forward. When they go to summer camp, won’t they learn how to canoe or rock climb? As they move away from home, won’t they learn how to cook?

There is no standard definition of lifelong learning, but it is generally accepted that it refers to learning that occurs outside what we think of as formal education. It is self-motivated, self-initiated and, sometimes, self-taught; it is voluntary. You become a lifelong learner because you have a desire to gain knowledge and skills whenever, wherever and however. The goal? Personal fulfillment. Maybe you get energized by understanding auto repair. Perhaps it brings you joy to learn a craft. Perhaps you simply find yourself interested in subjects, activities or problems that you want to know more about.

Whatever the reason, lifelong learning is not only fulfilling, but according to research I have reviewed, it has real benefits.

• Brain health: Recent research has found that learning keeps brain cells working at optimum levels, which can help maintain cognitive function and memory.
• Connection: Many forms of adult education allow you to meet new people and connect with current events and ideas. It’s a great way to make friends and avoid becoming out of touch.
Fulfillment: It helps open our minds and gain wisdom – things that can help us make the world, or our neighborhood, a better place.


The additional benefits of learning later in life include increased competence and confidence, a sense of purpose and satisfaction and the ability to more easily adapt to change and overcome challenges.

Avenues for lifelong learning come in many forms, not just a classroom. You might just be invigorated by learning with others. Check out classes or study groups at your local museum or library. Look for adult education classes offered by your town, local high school or college. The truth is, you can find online forums, complete with discussions and information sharing with others, for almost any interest, from foreign languages to flying a plane. If you’re good at learning independently, check out a how-to book or look into an online class.

Specialty stores like knit shops or tech stores often offer classes or know about local groups that welcome newcomers. Heck, start your own club and gather like-minded learners.

As we look to the end of the school year and graduation, I hope we will remind ourselves that learning makes life a bigger adventure, and every day brings an opportunity to stretch our minds, challenge ourselves and take on something new. Now that’s exciting!

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