How to Keep Learning All Your Life
Newsweek Europe|January 07 - 14, 2022
The need to learn is constant, but the tools necessary for it change as you get older
By Robin Abrahams and  Boris Groysberg. Photographs by Westend61, Simon Ritzmann and Getty

Learning is a lifelong endeavor. But it is not the same endeavor all your life long. Your brain changes over the course of time, and so does your social and physical environment. In each phase of life, however, six physical and environmental factors are crucial to learning—sleep; exercise; diet; support for physical and mental health; opportunities for mastery; and safety to fail.

Physical Needs

SLEEP. The effects of sleep on learning are direct and immediate. Sleep is so crucial to the processes of learning, memory, judgment and insight, that it should be factored into any educational or creative project plan.

EXERCISE. Exercise improves mood, decision-making and other psychological functions, which facilitates learning and the ability to use what is learned. Strength, aerobic and balance/control exercises like yoga and tai chi are all helpful. HEART-HEALTHY DIET. The mechanisms here aren’t well understood, but a body of evidence shows striking effects of a heart-healthy diet on cognitive performance, particularly in later life.

Environmental Needs

SUPPORT FOR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH If a person’s environment does not support their well being, their capacity to learn will be diminished. Basics include quality food, health care, space and time for exercise and sleep, as well as social norms that encourage healthy habits, and practical help when needed. OPPORTUNITIES FOR MASTERY. Experiences of mastery teach people that they can learn, that the initial state of helplessness or confusion in the face of a new challenge will dissipate and be replaced by competence. A healthy learning environment, therefore, provides plentiful and diverse opportunities for people to experience mastery. AND SAFETY TO FAIL. No one achieves mastery—at crawling, coding or anything else—without some initial awkwardness. Learning inevitably involves getting it wrong, taking too long, forgetting key things, making poor choices. If these experiences are punished or made shameful, learning will be impeded, as extensive research by our colleague Amy Edmondson has shown. An environment that promotes learning is one that destigmatizes and even celebrates the mistakes that come from learning or worthwhile experimentation.

Here’s how to take advantage of the key factors at each stage of life.

Early Adulthood (15–25): Take the Right Risks

When people are asked to reflect on their most important life events, chances are they will recall moments from this extraordinarily important, emotionally vivid, cognitively blooming decade. The brain of an adolescent is changing and developing nearly as fast as in infancy. These are the years when people make important choices about education, occupation, social and romantic relationships, beliefs and ideologies. The decisions made at this point in life have a profound impact on future learning opportunities

A 15-year-old is intellectually adult in many ways, able to think abstractly, think through scenarios, consider multiple points of view, plan long-range action, make independent moral judgments. A 15-year-old can process novel information faster than an adult. What a 15-year-old lacks is wisdom, due to limited life experience and, more importantly, a not-yet-fully developed brain. The prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that integrates information and plans appropriate actions to achieve goals, a series of processes known overall as “executive function”—does not fully mature until about age 25.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NEWSWEEK EUROPEView All

Sustainable Cabin Vacations

Everyone needs to get away from it all sometimes. But not everyone's idea of the ideal vacation is the same.

3 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 13, 2022

Summer Music Festivals to Get Your Groove On

What seemed a relic of the past amidst COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing precautions are now back in full force. This summer promises a music festival resurgence, with events taking place all over the world. Across festivals, lineups are both highlighting international talent and championing local artists. From Afro Nation on the pristine Portuguese seaside to Glastonbury in rural England to Fuji Rock in a Japanese forest, live music lovers of every genre have a lot to anticipate. Let the music play!

3 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 20 - 27, 2022 (Double Issue)

Emmy Rossum

PARTING SHOT

2 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 20 - 27, 2022 (Double Issue)

Crypto In Your 401(k)?

Just because you may soon be able to buy Bitcoin in your workplace retirement plan doesn’t mean you should.

6 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 20 - 27, 2022 (Double Issue)

BANS OFF OUR BODIES

MoveOn and Abortion Access activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3 after the leak of a draft opinion overturning the Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

1 min read
Newsweek Europe
May 20 - 27, 2022 (Double Issue)

CITY OF WATER

As climate change triggers sea-level rise and extreme weather, even New York, one of the world's best-prepared cities, may not be doing enough

10+ mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 20 - 27, 2022 (Double Issue)

'Division of the World Is Inevitable'

Countries need to choose whether to align with autocrats or democracies, says a former NATO Secretary-General

10 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 20 - 27, 2022 (Double Issue)

How to Shop Green

Customers seeking sustainable merch are a big deal these days. But which products actually deliver on their environmental promises?

5 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 06, 2022

Blue -or Bluer

In Pennsylvania and Texas, democratic voters face clear ideological choices that could signal the party's direction

5 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 06, 2022

Monozukuri gives Japan's niche players a competitive edge

While Japan has faced increasingly larger competition from the likes of China, South Korea and Southeast Asia in recent decades, many Japanese SME manufacturers have maintained large global market shares in B2B markets and niche fields characterized by high-mix, low-volume production.

8 mins read
Newsweek Europe
May 13, 2022
RELATED STORIES

How to Keep Learning All Your Life

The need to learn is constant, but the tools necessary for it change as you get older

9 mins read
Newsweek
January 07 - 14, 2022

Tips For Beating Test Anxiety

Study strategies and coping skills transform attitudes

6 mins read
Flagler Parent
February 2020

Helping Children Through Winter Holiday Routine Changes

The festivities leading up to and during the winter holidays can bring about many changes and disruptions to a family’s routine. Some children take these changes in stride, while others may need extra support to manage the excitement of the season.

2 mins read
Carolina Parent
December 2019

5 Things You Can Start Doing Today To Raise A Motivated Learner

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

5 mins read
Flagler Parent
December 2019

5 Things You Can Start Doing Today To Raise A Motivated Learner

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

5 mins read
Volusia Parent
December 2019

10 Steps For Leaders Who Really Want To Address Diversity And Inclusion

Implementing diversity initiatives to drive change

5 mins read
The BOSS Magazine
August 2019

South Dakota Middle School Teaches Students With Video Games

When eighth-grader Alyssa Lingen started her information and communications technology class this year at Patrick Henry Middle School, the art student was repulsed by anything related to computer science, she said.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
April 5, 2019

Lessons From Movie Night

Many of my favorite childhood movies don’t resonate quite the same with my kids as they did with me.

2 mins read
Charlotte Parent
March 2019

The Perfect Brain Food

Reading isn’t just filling your head—it’s nourishing it. The latest science on the magic of books.

3 mins read
Reader's Digest US
March 2019

3 Tips To Choose The School For Your Family

Tips for sorting through Charlottes public school opportunities

3 mins read
Charlotte Parent
Education Guide 2018-2019