Lifelong Learning
Outside the Classroom

Education shouldn’t end with school. By creating a culture of continuous learning, companies can thrive and build a team of loyal, high performers.

Lifelong Learning
Outside the Classroom - Douglas Feb/Mar 2024

In the movie Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon plays a self-taught genius working as a janitor who famously slams a smarmy Ivy Leaguer with these memorable words:

“You dropped 150 grand on an education you could have gotten for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.”

The wisdom he offers is profound, because what your business needs to get ahead may be at your fingertips. Formal education is vitally important, but there is plenty of knowledge to be gained outside the classroom.

The phrase “hire for attitude, train for skills” has been attributed to former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, but it’s a widely held belief that soft skills (i.e. work ethic or humour) are often more important to success than hard skills (i.e. accounting or computer programming). Studies by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford University have all concluded that 85 per cent of success comes from having well-developed soft skills, while only 15 per cent comes from hard skills. Hiring on this notion and maintaining an always-learning culture will help businesses position themselves well among their competitors and attain long-term success.

Moreover, lifelong learners are intrinsically more loyal (as long as they are given ample opportunities for professional development). They’re also more engaged at work and have higher levels of fulfillment and enjoyment. Lastly, a learning mindset promotes creativity and problem solving, both vital to innovation.

Workers need to keep learning and gaining skills at every level, especially in technology and related fields. Encouraging lifelong learning ensures agile and adaptable talent with relevant skills and the flexibility to pivot when the next change rolls through.

Recruiting and retaining learners

The Harvard Business Review suggests asking candidates the simple question: “How do you learn?” Their response will indicate if an individual has a personal system for updating, improving and sharing their knowledge and skills. As noted above, these candidates are more likely to be high performers and contribute to the long-term success and productivity of an organization.

According to a Deloitte survey, the “ability to learn and progress” is a principal driver of a company’s employment brand with 42 per cent saying they are likely to leave because they are not learning fast enough. In our 24/7 digital world, employees are demanding learning experiences that allow them to build skills quickly and on their own terms. Management must acknowledge this fact and embody a continuous learning mindset themselves. Leadership must be part of establishing a culture that promotes learning at every stage of an employee’s life cycle. In other words, learning should be seen as a foundational way of operating.

In addition, businesses should clearly define opportunities for employees to acquire new skills, training and education that supports their personal and professional goals. Companies must be willing to set aside the time and resources to support these claims. Some businesses might introduce more curated content, like MasterClass, TED Talks or podcasts; others might opt for learning-management software, lunch and learns, and in-person conferences. They are all valuable investments.

As humans, we all strive to learn. For some of us, that thirst for knowledge is never satisfied. Many employees today want to be part of an organization that embraces continuous learning; they want to develop their skills beyond the work they’re doing every day. The question is, why isn’t that same appetite for knowledge cultivated, embraced and enabled by every business? If they knew how a learning culture could lead to long-term, high-performing teams and greater business success, would organizations approach workplace curiosity differently?

Resources for lifelong learning:


Pre-recorded video resources like webinars, business-focused YouTube channels and TED Talks are great options for the audiovisual learner. While taught in a traditional teacher-to-student manner, the format of pre-recorded video instruction allows the flexibility to establish your own schedule and learn in short bursts from anywhere.


Some learners are still partial to the tactical benefits of a paperback and nostalgic trips to the library, but ebooks have benefits beyond portability — they can be updated more easily and come with extras like study guides, search and linked resources. Audiobooks are great for the auditory learning set and pair well with multi-taskers. Try an audio-book app like Blinkist that condenses the top lessons from many bestselling books into 15 minutes.


Like audiobooks, business podcasts are portable and user friendly. At around 20 minutes to an hour in length, they generally offer a lighter commitment than a book. The episodic format can also establish a routine of regular learning, based on a podcast’s release schedule.

Online Courses 

Online courses can be consumed in two ways: self-paced from pre-recorded material, or as a fixed course length with a live/self-directed mix and access to an instructor. If you struggle with self-discipline, the latter may work best for you, as accountability is an excellent motivator. Guided learning also gives you access to feedback from an expert and support from your cohort of fellow learners.

Hands-on Learning

The “kinesthetic” learner should take a hands-on approach to skill building. Volunteer or intern in your desired industry to learn by doing under the guidance of pros. If you choose to just jump into entrepreneurship, seek mentorship to help guide you. Mentorship opportunities can be found in social circles, at work and through entrepreneur communities like VIATEC and the South Island Prosperity Partnership. Also look for conferences and networking events that include hands-on workshops, like the annual VIEA State of the Island Summit.