Lifetime Learning: Did Your Education Stop at Age 21?

I was wandering around Princeton University on Sunday and bumped into their graduation & reunion ceremonies.  I spent the day surrounded by current and former students – it was a day filled with moments:

  • Jeff Bezos, founder of, gave the commencement address, sharing a story about how he left a very good job to chase the internet sensation.
  • At one point, I sat in an outdoor area, next to a table with four graduates who were catching up on the past few years of their lives – kids, debt, job search, relocation, stress and the like.
  • I sat next to a man in his 70s at lunch, wearing his Princeton outfit, back in town for the reunion. He was with his grandson, chatting up the bartender over a lunchtime beer. His grandson explained to him what a Mimosa was.
  • I walked past recent graduates leaving the ceremony, stripping off their gowns and caps, a faraway look in their eyes as they rushed to meetup with friends and family.

These moments had me considering how we learn, how we grow. The first 21 years of our lives are about structured learning – we go to school, we memorize facts, we are posed with challenges and tests, as we move up the ladder from pre-school to college graduation.

And then what?

How do we learn from there? In many ways, I suppose: we learn through our everyday lives, unstructured learning, experience, our jobs, via those we meet, and by reading, playing and creating.

This works well for some. Not so well for others. For some, it’s easy to back into a safe corner, surrounded by the same dozen people, the same job, the same town, the same experiences day in and day out. It’s easy to treat new ideas as foreign, new people as ‘other.’ At some point, life becomes more about reinforcement & validation of what we already know, not openness to new experience, and a thirst for new ideas, new ways, new communities.

I have found social media to be a powerful learning tool – connecting not just to information, but to communities, to individuals. And I am fascinated with how we can take this a step further – how we can continue learning throughout our lives, assigning goals, and working together to meet them. I’ve been studying models for online classrooms, and how individuals can come together to teach, learn and grow.

This summer I will be launching an online class of my own, one geared towards writers, and how they can build an engaged online fanbase.