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The term "lifelong learning" can be intimidating to someone who hasn't sat at a school desk since they were a teenager.
"For many people, when they think of lifelong learning, they think 'Oh, my gosh. I have to go to school for the rest of my life and how much will that cost me?'" said Barb Nicol, assistant director of adult education at the Ohio Department of Education.
But the concept behind lifelong learning is really something we're all used to. Most of us are informally learning (think of a do-it-yourself TV show on home improvement or cooking) on a regular basis.
"If we take a look around us, the world is swirling and changing," Nicol said.
We are constantly adapting and keeping pace with new information that's available to us. And that keeps us vibrant and alive.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study pointed out that an indication of the growing importance of continual learning throughout your life is the coining of the term "lifelong learning." Today there is the expectation that most adults will need further education throughout their life to keep up with changing job skill requirements.
The Adult Education and Lifelong Learning Survey of the 2001 National Household Education Surveys Program states: "For some, this education or training consists of professional development to upgrade the skills needed in one's chosen occupation. For others, it may mean periodic retooling for a different occupation or industry. Rather than training for a single occupation – often with the expectation of working for a single employer – many adults now anticipate having multiple jobs (or even multiple careers) with multiple employers over their lifetimes."
Many employees realize this and are preparing for it: According to the study, nearly half of the adults surveyed were engaged in some form of work-related education. Most were seeking skill enhancement, including both the acquisition of new skills (85 percent) and the maintenance of existing skills (83 percent).
"Learning, both formally and informally, makes us better as people and better as workers," Nicol said.
So, what are your career goals? They may be to advance to a position with more responsibility or to change direction and move in a different career path. Even if they are to simply remain in your current position for several more years before retiring, lifelong learning comes into play. It is essential for the first two scenarios and important for the third.
"Learning new skills makes your work environment better," Nicol said. "You will increase your productivity and job satisfaction. It's kind of a spiraling upward cycle."
Unfortunately, when employees don't continue to develop their skills and learn new ones, they grow stagnant.
"Generally speaking, you probably would become underutilized in the workplace and may become disenchanted with the workplace," Nicol said.
The concern about the cost of lifelong learning can be relieved by using your Union Education Trust benefit. It is available to relieve the burden of the expense of training to achieve your career goals.
If you aren't sure what your first step toward lifelong learning should be, the Union Education Trust offers career development counseling to help all eligible State of Ohio bargaining unit employees to make the right career moves. Contact the professional counselors by calling (800) 980-6973 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.