When was the last time you experienced the dizzying joy of learning something new?
Though the bulk of our formal learning experiences are concentrated in the childhood and school years, learning is a lifelong pursuit that has a stimulating, powerful effect on the mind long after we’ve mastered the ABCs. A study from the University of California at Irvine revealed that learning keeps our brains functioning at a high level – and some believe that it actually helps us live longer and fight off Alzheimer's, making learning a veritable fountain of youth.
To be a lifelong learner is engage in an ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of new knowledge, skills, and abilities. If you’re already a lifelong learner, you’re on the right track. If not, welcome! It’s never too late to get started and improve your quality of life. With all the resources at your disposal – free online courses, language-learning apps, podcasts, libraries and museums, online lectures from higher education institutions and more – the world really is your oyster.
But no need to clutch your pearls! Sometimes, when a wealth of options seems overwhelming, less is more.
Cut through the noise and find your next self-taught bliss with our simple list of new skills to try, no matter your age.
Take free online courses – in almost any subject imaginable
You don’t need to be enrolled in formal education to keep learning – and with massive open online courses, or MOOCs, the world is at your fingertips. Find free, self-paced classes in fields as varied as computer science, languages, literature, philosophy, architecture and scores of others. Courses include offerings from Ivy League universities, credit-eligible certificate and continuing education programs and more. You can even earn a college degree! With more than 2,750 offerings from EdX alone, your next great adventure awaits – so jump in and get learning!
Let yourself be blinded by science
Open your eyes to the world around – and above, below and within – you! Unless you specialized in the sciences in school, it may have been a while since you marveled at the quantifiable wonders of the universe. If you haven’t picked up a book about Neptune, dinosaurs, deep-sea organisms, or the human brain since you were a child, it’s time to quit missing out. Here are our quick tips for getting into science as an adult or older adult:
Read widely to unearth your passions
Not ready to deep-dive into a single subject? Try dabbling first, to get your feet wet. Read widely to discover new ideas, and check out beginner-friendly science podcasts like Radiolab and Science Vs.
Take field trips
Science actually is all around – so go play! Check your state and municipal parks for ranger-led programs, visit museums, go to the planetarium, and more. Bring a notebook with you, and keep an inquiring mind.
Bring the science home to you
With a few clicks, you can have a new world of wonders delivered right to your door. For aspiring science-lovers, we love Atomic Post, which dials into your love of outer space or prehistoric Earth to deliver new info, insights, and science-related goodies each month.
Learn a new language
Languages open the door to new countries, literature, and experiences, and are more important than ever in our changing world. Ready to try your tongue? Download free language-learning programs and apps right to your phone, or find a real-life language practice partner. Many local libraries, community colleges, and community organizations host conversation groups and language exchanges, so you can achieve fluency in real time while making new friends.
Take a stab at fiber arts
Though the thermometer may argue otherwise, sweater weather is on the horizon – and there’s little more empowering or satisfying than making something functional and beautiful with your hands. If you’re new to knitting or crocheting, it’s (k)not too hard, and fiber arts communities are wonderfully welcoming to newbies. Check out free online community Ravelry for patterns, advice and more, and sign up for Knit Wise to receive a beginner-friendly crochet or knitting project kit each month. You’ll be whipping up Christmas hats and scarves in no time.
Bring the world to your kitchen
Remember Julie and Julia, where a NYC blogger decided to cook her way through Julia Child’s entire Mastering the Art of French Cooking? A tad ambitious – but lifelong learner, so are you!
If you’d like to add new (or, any) dishes to your repertoire, but you’re not ready to tackle a master chef’s entire oeuvre, no worries. There are cooking projects available for the rest of us. Dust off your favorite cookbook and challenge a friend to cook through it with you, check out one of these beginner-friendly food blogs, or start with a no-fail International Meal Kit, which delivers hard-to-find ingredients and recipes to dazzle your next dinner party. Get cooking, learners!
Take a look in a classic book
When was the last time you read a book for pleasure – really, truly, for pleasure, rather than for school or professional development? Rediscover the joy of sustained reading without breaking the bank (plus, tap into the environmental joy of re-using) by discovering used books. For learners who love novelty, Literature Cycle’s super fun Used Books Monthly club mails you a new surprise title each month for just under $6. And if you love to incorporate learning into your social life, try starting a book club. (Check your local library – many offer “book club kits,” ready to go.)
Crafting – it’s cheaper than therapy! And with the right projects, it can make your home Pinterest-worthy, too. Browse a huge variety of crafting categories, get inspiration, and chat with experts on the free, online Craftster forums if you’re ready to specialize in a single medium. Or, diversify with the kits from Adults and Crafts, which delivers complete craft kits and instructions for Instagram-ready projects.
Reach for the stars with goal-setting
It’s not all academics – one of the greatest gifts for a learner of any age is learn is how to organize your life. If you’re not already on the bullet journaling trend, it’s not too late – and you don’t need the perfect planner to realize your vision. Start simple with Everyday Manifest, a minimalist, 30-day-at-a-time resource for tracking habits, setting goals, and motivationally journaling.
Cultivate your green thumb
Learn to connect with the earth beneath your feet by coaxing life from it. No matter how many potted succulents you’ve killed in the past, there’s no such thing as an actual “black thumb” in gardening – all you need is soil, sun, water, and a little guidance. Get your start with gardening subscription box Bloomin’ Bin, which pairs seeds and supplies with gentle information about how to help each plant flourish. Your skills will grow in no time.