The things you learn …

I’ve long held a view that higher education can come too soon for many of us. I didn’t uncover a love for learning until my fifties, even though I’d had moments in my thirties and forties when I stopped and wondered “what if …”

I was in my late twenties when I had simple mathematics explained to me in a manner I could relate to and understand – not by a teacher, but by my employer’s Finance Director. All he did was take a few moments to assess my level of ability and tailor his explanation accordingly. It was like a massive light bulb had been turned on. My daughter had a similar experience with a new maths teacher in the final year before she took GCSE exams (taken at age 15/16 for readers across the pond) and the difference he made was powerful. A sole trader now, she does her business taxes with competence and without drama – rather than maths becoming something which held her back from following her creative dream.

Life-long learning is a current buzz phrase, but why isn’t it the norm? I know age-old wisdom says our brains are sponges during childhood making it the best time to learn, also that it’s hard to teach an old dogs new tricks. But is it learning that becomes more difficult with age, or is it our ability – and/or willingness – to simply memorise facts? As adults, are we more likely to bring our life experience and analytical skills to bear to the learning process? And if so, surely that’s a good thing?

With the growing incidence of dementia, we’re being told how important it is to keep body and brain active. Yet the daily life of many an adult is limited to get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed … and repeat – to be worker drones in effect.

Learning needn’t be formal, nor be about obtaining qualifications. Learning can be as simple as maintaining a spirit of curiosity. There’s that old chestnut about a person being interested and so interesting. I’ve oft said I enjoy hearing about another person’s interests – regardless the subject matter – so long as they are knowledgeable and passionate about their subject. I don’t expect to retain it all, but by active listening and a willingness to learn something, my brain remains engaged and active.

If I get dementia due to genetics or some other factor – so be it. I’ll have done my best to fight it off, all the while enjoying learning about huge amounts of fascinating and interesting topics.

tree meme

Postscript: After completing my post, I saw this meme and mentioned it during a chat with Himself. I was saying how it made me stop and think, even if it were easy to run a truck through it scientifically-speaking. To my surprise he laughed and said “nope, it’s supported by basic physics.” When I pointed out that the words basic and physics are never connected in my world, he went on to explain about specific heat capacity. We to’d and fro’d on the subject until he suggested I would find it worthwhile taking a Physics GCSE-level course (you’ll remember aimed at 15/16 year olds) as it would give me a real grounding in much of what goes on in the world – scientifically speaking.  So, I’m going to do just that …

How do you keep your brain active? What are your thoughts about life long learning? 

© Debra Carey, 2019

18 thoughts on “The things you learn …

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  1. Good luck! The thing to keep in mind with Physics, is that if it were a three storey house, the first floor is strong, the second is exciting and being built as we speak, and the ground floor hasn’t even been built yet – there are lots of people wandering around in hard hats sucking there teeth going ‘hmmmmm….’.

    Also, the building blocks are very simple, but they never stack neatly. Himself is absolutely right about the specific heat capacity bit – but that’s not the whole story. The trees respirating changes the humidty of the air, but also cause air flow. And then there’s…


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  2. “Learning needn’t be formal…”

    I believe that is the stumbling block for some people who immediately equate learning with school and homework and grades. I agree with you, but I know that for anyone who had a difficult time in school the idea of learning something new brings up bad feelings about themselves. They were taught to fear learning.

    That being said, my parents instilled a sense of curiosity and can-do spirit in me so that I adore learning new things– even if it’s just one little factoid. I don’t need to know it all, but will pay attention to any new idea/topic/problem for at least a little while. I figure that’s enough to keep my brain clicking.

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  3. I read a lot, puzzles and all sorts of cultural things. I try to keep my mind open to new ideas and new experiences. My goal is to keep thinking and keep doing.

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  4. Good piece and makes so much sense – I am definitely a late developer and would have benefited from better maths teaching at our alma mater! Did we have the same maths teacher I wonder? Annie Laurie?? Good luck with your mature GCSE – keep us posted! Sarah Billson (McDonald)

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  5. Wow, physics? You’re brave. 🙂 I struggled so much with math and science, both in school and later in college. But like you, I had a helpful colleagues explain calculating averages, inflation, growth, etc., in such a “light bulb” fashion that made me wonder if it was my earlier teachers or just me that hampered my being able to grasp the concepts. I think you’re right, Deb, that we appreciate learning more as grown adults. – Marty

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  6. Thanks David, just when Himself had convinced me that it was the sound foundation on which everything else was built! But, of course, you’re right – things evolve, new stuff is learned, and I think taking that spirit with me will help, for it’s going to be one hell of a curve! 🙂

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  7. You’re spot on there Ally. For a significant part of my schooldays, I loathed school & there was little about the learning experience that I found positive. Now, though, I just love it. It was that early negative experience which kept me away from re-training in my 30s & 40s – something I look back on with only the small degree of regret I allow myself in such circumstances.

    One of the best things about meeting new people is the new stuff I learn – and I don’t just mean about people and their behaviour, but about their interests & passions. It can all be fascinating stuff …


  8. Yup, LA, mine too – and it’s an attitude I advocate to everyone. When we stop being interested in life & what’s out there, that’s when life itself stops being interesting. It makes me terribly sad if I hear any adult saying they’re bored and doing absolutely nothing about it. I cannot remember the last time I was bored.


  9. Oh, another David! Hi dfolstad58 & it’s great to hear that senior get discounts on education in the US. I’m not sure we have that system over here in the UK, although I will surely be finding out as I scope out my Physics course!


  10. Hi Sarah 🙂 Ah-ha – being a late developer is yet another commonality we share! I cannot remember who my maths teacher was, but that name doesn’t ring a bell. I was in the bottom stream is all I can remember & had to have special tuition in order to scrape my grade 6 ‘O’ level pass!


  11. Hey Janet 🙂 You are so right, I could sign up to an online class pretty much every day of the week (in fact I may’ve been guilty of doing so in the past 😀 ) The variety of stuff to learn is just amazing – everything from creative pursuits, through science, via practical skills and the totally self-indulgent. I love it!


  12. Marty – snap! It was such a struggle in school, I never thought I’d get a handle on it. I’m still not sure I will (see @breakerofthings post and he’s a scientist) but I’m going to give it a go to see if my adult brain is better placed to take stuff in. Let’s hope so or it could be a frustrating semester.


  13. It’s also worth investigating whether you have a University of the Third Age (U3A) near you e.g. who provide lots of courses for those who join up and also a social aspect.

    Learning can be formal, as in an organised course, or informal driven by personal interest such as a chap I once knew who was passionate about geography through his stamp collection. It led to all sorts of interesting discoveries for him.

    There must be something about the way maths is taught in schools that makes it seem an impenetrable barrier. I never did get my O-level maths, but that has not stopped me computing firing trajectories as a gunner, vectors for navigation or departmental/ parish accounts.

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  14. Alan, that’s an excellent suggestion – thank you 🙂

    Yes, it does seem likely that teaching methods aren’t one size fits all (shock horror), especially as your experience mirrors that of so many.

    I love the stamp collection story – a perfect illustration of my ethos.


  15. Dash it! Once again a link doesn’t appear: after e.g. in my comment above should have been: (other sites available!) 🙂

    On the “things evolve, new stuff is learned” front there is (of course) a wonderful quote from Terry Pratchett in, I think, the Science of Discworld foreword where he says, effectively that a lot of what we first learn is ‘lies told to children’ then as we grow up it becomes ‘lies told to adults’ until finally we learn what is really going on. Perhaps @breakerofthings could find the exact quote in his copious spare time. 🙂 🙂 (That for those who don’t know is irony – he doesn’t have ‘spare’ time)

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  16. Thanks muchly for the link Alan. I’ve re-tuned it for my new Sussex abode and have found there are a number of options, which is jolly exciting. I shall be gifting myself a browse of the options for 2020, for I have one or two little projects to finish first 🙂


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