After (almost) four years of writing a monthly column for The Durango Herald, I’ve realized how the topics tend to surface as a reflection of adult experience. This month is no exception.
At 45, I am entering the final stretch of the journey toward a master’s degree. This month, I can’t help but think about life-long learning. That is, after a break from the rigor of academia.
You may scoff at the thought of going back to school. Tuition prices have skyrocketed, you already have a full-time job, maybe kids or grandkids, and it might feel embarrassing to register for a formal class full of 18- to 25-year-olds.
While your brain isn’t a muscle, it always needs exercise. In essence, that’s what learning is – strengthening the connections between neurons (brain cells) through repetition.
So, when was the last time you engaged in a learning activity? Are you flashing back to a younger, sleep-resistant version of yourself in a coffee-infused, late-night cram session?
That’s a valid association for the word “learning.” But, learning in adulthood is unique. Adulting presents us with problems, and problems need solutions. More often than not, learning is a path to problem-solving.
With that in mind, I bet you learned something this week. Maybe even today.
Keep it up! Besides solving problems, learning benefits you in other ways. Despite the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, evidence points out otherwise. The aging brain is capable of learning just as well as the young brain well into our 80s.
- Social well-being. Learning about things you’re interested in connects you with like-minded people, both new and old acquaintances.
- Improved memory and cognition. While learning something new, you can improve your memory by practicing memory training. Take notes, use mnemonics and relate the new material to things you already know.
- Health and vitality. Studies consistently show people report higher degrees of psychological well-being when involved with life-long learning, especially, nonformal learning.
- Self-esteem and self-efficacy. Continuous and active learning is an accomplishment that promotes positive feelings related to self and one’s abilities.
To be honest, I am not interested in going back to school again, either. But that’s where nonformal (life-long) learning comes in. Nonformal learning arises from your desire to master a skill, activity or area of knowledge. Simply put, it’s stimulating and fun because you were prompted by curiosity.
Think of nonformal learning as a book club, watching a documentary, TED Talk or YouTube video, participating in a community class, lecture or experience, volunteering and on-the-job training.
The Healthy Living Program begins Feb. 6. Families with teens, take advantage of this opportunity together. Cooking skills, nutrition, physical activity and mindfulness to manage stress and live better. Learn more at http://bit.ly/3XpZ8WK.
While it may seem like a shameless plug, this column is called “From the Extension Office,” so here it goes: Extension has been providing statewide, nonformal community learning opportunities since 1914. You might say, it’s kind of our thing.
It’s a new year, and the perfect time for a better you. Fill your happy bucket by pursuing what interests you. Colorado State University and La Plata County Extension will leave the door open for you to explore and expand your learning opportunities, at little to no cost. Come see what we have to offer.
For more information, visit www.laplataextension.org.
Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461.