We can’t stop ourselves from learning, so why not do it on purpose?

Human beings never stop learning. Not only are we able to keep up with our ever-changing world, but because understanding gets us going. By understanding more and more about our surroundings and ourselves we connect with each other, become closer to other people and cultures. By using our brain, we stay in tune with the latest technology and with these new tools become better versions of ourselves.

Studying then and now

Not only has the range of scientific fields expanded (neuroparasitology or bioinformatics, anyone?), but so has the way we are taught. Student life has changed drastically over the last decades, starting with teaching materials. What was once a book-only studying approach has transformed into a multi-media symphony of sources. Video and audio bring entire university courses to our laptop screens – no paper required. Online schools, like Kahn Academy, or Coursera have even been founded on the concept of open source education, from wherever in the world you happen to be. Only 10 short years ago, students had to meet to study together, share documents, compare notes or debate. Today, we have the option of coordinating the same amount of sharing and conversation on our computers or mobile devices.

The organizational side of studying has also changed since the early 2000s. Online applications, downloading course material, and registering for exams now requires little to no paperwork. Assembling your curriculum (which used to be done by consulting a huge course catalogue comprising all classes of one faculty), or applying for a class (in ancient times by queuing up, sometimes even for days, to be able to get into your desired classes). The University of Vienna is, in fact, currently upgrading its online registration system, from the drab, 2000s model “univis” to the shiny new U:SPACE. Even consultations with professors can be done online, via chat or instant messaging, since teachers increasingly aren’t even in the same city or country as their students anymore.

At the beginning of this century, studying entailed more waiting in line. While students practiced patience they had time to meet fellow students, which is its own kind of education.

© Universität Wien

© Universität Wien

Learning on the job 

The face-to-face learning that happens in debates, at coffee houses, around tables at pubs – this has become no less valuable. Through it we learn something you cannot teach: so-called soft skills.

Few people applying for jobs fit every specification in the ad, and even if they do, it’s no guarantee they’ll get the position. “People skills” and other overused terms like “hands-on mentality” and “team player” are often ways of saying “we want to hire someone we like.”

Not long ago, when starting a new job, it was enough to be trained in an area of expertise and with that, reach a certain level of experience, after which it would be smooth sailing until retirement.

But today, corporate culture trumps qualifications, meaning that new recruits are expected to be able to “learn on the job.” Most roles on the current employment market require new recruits to learn on the job. People born between 1980 and 1996, so-called millennials, are referred to as the “job-hopping generation.” In a study recently conducted by Gallup, 21% say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number for non-millennials.

In addition to reading and on-the-job learning, many find it helpful and even inspiration- al to watch videos about people in a new area of employment or interest. There is a vast selection of material to view on Ted.com, with famous and not-so-famous speakers expounding on subjects from rocket science to teenage angst. As new jobs emerge in virtually every sector, platforms like whatchado.com have become increasingly relevant. The site explains how to become everything from a milk technologist to a quality engineer, but also offers tips from people who have followed a more special career path, like cheerleaders or Nobel prize winners.

Keeping our brains flexible 

Anything we want to master is literally at our fingertips, but keeping our minds t enough to absorb and process information is today’s bigger challenge. Being able to learn new things, adapt our perspective and use critical thinking make education useful in the first place.

Since most of us feel intrinsically connected to our smartphones, what better device to use as a workout coach for our grey cells? More and more apps and websites are available to help us acquire new skills and habits into our daily lives. Many of them use gami cation, and like with any sport, it’s more fun when it’s competitive – even if you only play against yourself.

According to a study recently conducted in Australia, students who play online games perform better in math, reading and science tests. The same study found that students who spend lots of time on social networks tend to under-perform. There’s some food for thought.

For games and mindbenders, apps such as Neuronation train your brain using reaction, equation and memory exercises to stimulate cognitive abilities. Finding peace is also an important part of mental fitness. Guided meditation apps like Headspace can help anxious or overwhelmed minds find respite.


 

Want to learn something?

Here are some helpful links to keep you learning and your mind agile.

COURSERA

Coursera is a tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts.

HEADSPACE

Headspace is a digital service that provides guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training.

ITUNES U

A convenient place for free online education, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod, or any app-ready Apple mobile device.

KHAN ACADEMY

Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom.

NEURONATION

Train your brain to get smarter. Focus on memory, concentration or attention.

PEAK – BRAIN TRAINING

Games designed to push you hard with short, intense workouts designed around your life.

TED TALKS

Technology. Entertainment. Design. It doesn’t always have to be a whole lecture. Watch short impulses that make you want to go deeper into a certain topic.

WHATCHADO

A combination of storytelling handbook and standardized format of short lms on real-life job descriptions.

U:SPACE

The central access point for all services related to the organization of degree programs and teaching at the University of Vienna.