Home / News & Insights / Lifelong learning for seniors

Lifelong learning for seniors

Lifelong learning for seniors

Learning is a key aspect of social and economic development, and ‘lifelong learning’ has become increasingly important as Australia’s population gets older. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2006–07, four out of five Australian adults engaged in some form of learning. Almost three quarters had engaged in learning during the 12 months leading up to being interviewed for employment.1

Access to learning contributes to a socially inclusive Australia, and lifelong learning is one way of increasing people’s capacity to work by providing the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to enter, remain in, or return to work.

In the case of seniors, continuing education is a great way to boost chances of a satisfying retirement. Having confidence in yourself as a competent, effective learner, will allow you to view challenges as opportunities for growth. Surround yourself with other confident learners and they’ll keep you inspired.

Remember, neuroscience and psychology shows our brains remain plastic and malleable well into old age, so whether you’re 18 or 81, you can always create new connections among neurons.2

What is lifelong learning?

‘Lifelong learning’ is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Essentially, it’s the voluntary act of learning throughout life – way beyond compulsory education.

Lifelong learning is now recognised by educators, governing bodies, accreditation organisations, certification boards, employers, third-party payers, and the general public as one of the most important competencies a person can possess.

Lifelong learning generally falls into two categories:

Learning for personal development

Learning can be practiced at any age and can be extremely rewarding.

There is a common view that continuous learning and having an active mind throughout life may delay or halt the progress of some forms of dementia while improving memory and self-confidence. For baby boomers preparing to redefine retirement, lifelong learning is an obvious way to stave off mental and physical ailments that may get in the way.

Lifelong learning guru, Nancy Merz Nordstrom, describes lifelong learning as a vital ingredient for the baby boomer lifestyle or anyone in their “after-50” years. “When you look at the benefits gained from keeping your mind sharp, it’s incredible,” she says. “Lifelong learning is like a health club for your brain.”3

Nordstrom describes in her book, Learning Later, Living Greater, ten main benefits for learning purely for personal development:

1. An enriched life of self-fulfilment

Our capacity to learn and grow does not decrease with age. It’s never too late to start learning and through academic learning comes greater fulfilment and an exciting multi-dimensional life.

2. Valuable relationships

Through lifelong learning, adults are meeting new people, forging friendships and relationships with others, as well as enjoying an active social life. Lifelong learning is a great way to keep in touch with people and live a life surrounded by the company of adults truly embracing the excitement of the later years.

3. A sense of worth

Practicing lifelong learning allows for meaningful community involvement and gives you a sense that you are an incredible asset. By taking part in educational programs and by enjoying an active social life, retirement is suddenly a whole lot more enjoyable.

4. Provides meaning

Lifelong learning allows you the benefit of real perspective and enables you to find true meaning in the hills and valleys of your past. Through learning, looking back is made enjoyable.

5. Greater adaptability

Continuing to learn throughout your senior years will also allow you to keep up with society’s changes – especially when it comes to adapting to fast-paced technological changes.

Research has shown that Australians 75 years or older are clocking up close to 20 hours per week on average online, meaning that many seniors are embracing the Internet for activities.4

6. Makes the world a better place

Through the community aspect of lifelong learning, older adults can give back to their local community and to the world. Learning offers opportunity to share your wisdom and valuable insight as an older adult with a wealth of experience.

7. Increases wisdom

Greater knowledge is an obvious part of lifelong learning, but what might not be so obvious is the effect lifelong learning can have on your inner wisdom. Learning helps you to better understand your successes and failures and can help you better understand yourself.

8. Increased drive

Learning gives you the hunger for life that is so often missing in your later years. The more you learn, the more there is discover about the world and that hunger constantly fuels your mind into action. Drive and desire created in the classroom pushes you into further exploration.

9. An open mind

An integral part of lifelong learning is the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints among older learners. Listening or taking part in a stimulating conversation helps open your mind to other possibilities.

10. Develop abilities

Having moved on from working life, you are now free to truly explore yourself and your innate natural abilities. We’re all born with abilities, but unfortunately, life’s responsibilities often gets in the way of us exploring them. By learning during retirement, we have ample opportunity to develop abilities that may have sat dormant.

Learning for professional development

While qualifications can help you get a job, continued learning is the key to making that job secure. Learning throughout your career ensures you remain at the top of your game, and learning something new can pay off with new opportunities which might not have otherwise come about.

While you are employed, take advantage of training, coaching or mentoring opportunities and work on your continuous professional development. Through lifelong learning, you can project yourself as an indispensable employee that thrives on rolling with the times and revel in the knowledge that you’re an asset. In other words, putting in the time for extra learning brings its own rewards.

If staying in employment for as long as possible is your goal, lifelong learning is one way you can help make your goal a reality.

Tips for lifelong learning

Lifelong learning doesn’t have to be complicated. And you don’t have to return to TAFE or university to learn anything new. Lifelong learning can be about simple practices that together install the healthy habit of being open to learning. From there, you can learn almost anything.

Tips for installing the habit of lifelong learning include:

Always read a book: It doesn’t matter how long it takes to read it, just always be sure you have a book ‘on the go’.

Keep a ‘to learn’ list: Don’t just write ‘to do’ lists for the things you need to accomplish. Write a list for the things you want to learn too.

Practice guided thinking: Instead of just listening to stuff, use it to build on your own thoughts. Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough; you have to think through ideas yourself.

Teach others: If you have a skill to share, share it and in turn you’ll hone it. Start a blog, mentor someone, or start a discussion.

Avoid convictions: Too many convictions mean too few paths for new ideas. You can’t add water to a full cup.

Learn early: Putting off learning until later in the day will most likely mean that something else will come up. Set aside 15 minutes first thing, when your mind is fresh and free of distractions.

Look for rewards: Learn information you can use.


  1. 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2008Australian Bureau of Statistics
  2. Life lessonsJay Jackson
  3. Top 10 Benefits Of Lifelong LearningSelfGrowth
  4. Co-parenting: It’s all a bit of a juggling act, but all in the name of loveAustralian Seniors Insurance Agency