Adult learning is personal — and in person


Adult learning is personal — and in person

A new language. The habits of hummingbirds. Changing a flapper valve.

Choose your topic: We like to learn. And for most of us, that continues well beyond the traditional school years.

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows a strong majority of American adults —73% — consider themselves lifelong learners. About the same number are what Pew calls personal learners. They’re taking courses, reading or going to events to learn more about a topic that interests them personally. Only about half as many are professional learners, gaining skills or advance their career.

The survey also says there’s a strong correlation between higher levels of education and income and a higher likelihood we’ll pursue ongoing learning.

What’s perhaps more surprising is where we like to put on our learning caps. If you think the internet is the go-to source for knowledge in today’s digital world, you fail this pop-up quiz. Instead, the vast majority prefer to learn in physical settings than online.

  • 81% of personal learners say they visit a high school, place of worship or library to learn, compared with 52% who cite the internet.
  • 75% of professional learners say they crack the books in a work-related setting, versus 55% who head online.

Where can you turn to learn? If you work for a larger company, your human resources department likely offers training or materials. If there’s a university or community college nearby, that’s a no-brainer, too. But don’t overlook these resources that may be available in your community:

  • Local library. It’s not just for book clubs. Many branches offer low- or co-cost classes on English as a second language, public speaking, arts and crafts, resume writing and more.
  • Museums. Yours may offer art classes, history lessons or guided tours that offer insights into exhibits.
  • Home improvement stores. Ask about classes on DIY projects from painting to installing a dimmer switch.
  • Churches and synagogues. Many have a variety of small groups that bring in speakers or go on field trips, and visitors are welcome.
  • Professional associations. Check out clubs for nearly every interest imaginable. Many encourage guests.
  • Charitable organizations. Volunteer for a cause you believe in and learn as you go.
  • Friends and neighbors. Know someone who bakes to-die-for cakes or has the best garden on the block? Ask if you can “job shadow” while they work their craft. You might even get to lick the frosting bowl.
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