This month, students the world over (or at least in Canada!) headed back to school. With the back to school season in full-swing, we started thinking about how there’s always opportunities to keep learning at work, too.
Why would you want to keep learning new things, at work of all places? The better question is why wouldn’t you? The benefits are countless. A few that come to mind? Stave off boredom. Stay sharp and alert. Slow the effects of aging. Maintain your mental health. Learn current and emerging skills. Simply put, learning is essential to success in your personal life and your work life. Think of it as exercising your brain, the same way you exercise your body.
the science behind learning new things
Science supports the practice of lifelong learning. We used to think that the brain we were born with was the brain we got, especially in the face of brain injury. Now we know that the brain is capable of change – it continues to grow, heal and form new connections in what’s called neuroplasticity. Science tells us neuroplasticity occurs in our brains as infants, when our immature brain begins to organize itself, when we need to replace lost functions or maximize remaining ones when the brain is injured, and as adults when we learn something new.
how learning affects your employability
Continuous learning is especially critical in today’s workplace where technologies, processes and how we interact change constantly, radically and at lightning speed. It’s safe to say it’s not enough to keep your skills up to date. Your employability depends on your willingness and ability to stay on the cusp of new trends and technologies (and sometimes even ahead of them!) and to widen your skills and knowledge-base.
In order for organizations to remain agile and responsive to change, employers need multi-faceted employees who are not only capable of executing a role, but who are also flexible, resourceful, lateral thinkers – skills gained from constant learning and application. These are the workers who step up and take on projects; whose networks regularly expand; the people their colleagues ask to work with; the employees whose growth is recognized by promotion.
Here are some suggestions for how you can expand your mind – literally and metaphorically.
1. make a commitment
Remember how hard it is to drag yourself to the gym every day? Yet, you do it anyway, because you know it’s good for you. Make the same commitment to learning new things every day. Learning is a habit – most habits are learned in six weeks.
2. read something
The most successful people read several hours per day. Online, handheld device or old-fashioned, hard copy, page-turning book, nothing replaces reading for acquiring knowledge. Not to mention, it’s a great way to transport yourself, even if you’re on a crowded subway.
3. try training programs
Investigate learning opportunities in your organization. Many companies offer in-house training seminars or are willing to cover tuition costs if you can make a case for the benefits to the organization of your studies or if you negotiate tuition as part of your compensation package.
4. join a discussion
Finding like-minded individuals or organizations with a common discussion point is a great way to keep learning. Look for discussion groups, training seminars, or networks that lift you up from the familiar and introduce you to new experiences, information and ways of thinking. Not sure where to start? Social media sites like LinkedIn are a great way to find others in your industry who have valuable insights to share.
5. update your existing skills
Think about the existing skills you have. Look into upgrading your current skills or obtaining new certifications. Building on your existing skills will increase your confidence and make you better and more efficient at your job. Nothing makes you stand taller, take on more or prepares you for the future like confidence!
6. take on a challenge
Taking risks is when your brain is really challenged. Make a commitment to learn something completely outside your current capacity and comfort zone. Think about how learning something truly new that you’ve never done before. Whether it’s learning a new language or volunteering for a work project you never would have considered before, try something new that scares you! Think about how taking that leap will enrich your skills and enable you to think faster and more creatively. Imagine what you’d bring to your workplace with brand new accounting skills or graphic design capabilities.
There are so many good reasons for challenging yourself to acquire new skills. So fire-up those synapses, trigger those connectors, build new mental bridges and learn something new! Lifelong learning trains you to be change-ready, instead of change-averse. And in today’s world, change is the only thing we can count on.