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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

January 3, 2019


Why lifelong learning is the key to business success.

Someone taking their own time to learn

What is lifelong learning?

Do you dream of being the next Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey? Hard work and dedication are key factors to achieving their success, but there’s an additional element that helps them succeed. Lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is the idea that you are never finished educating yourself and growing. Lifelong learning can take on many forms; individuals who learn new software or skills in their jobs participate in lifelong learning. Getting new certification or training, listening to podcasts, taking online classes, teaching new skills to someone else, and reading books are all ways to continue to educate yourself throughout your life. The importance of continual education is realizing that you can always continue to progress and grow in your education; you never know everything and there is always room for more for you to learn, and more you can offer. Studies and success stories show that being a lifelong learner is crucial for business success and is an integral part of entrepreneurship and career advancement strategy. While there are many ways be a learner, self-directed learning is one of the most valuable.


Self directed learning.

Self directed learning happens in four parts; identifying your learning needs, creating educational goals, finding your resources for learning and implementing them, and evaluating your success. Because this is all “self directed” you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to identifying all of these elements. Self-directed learners determine where they need to learn, and how they’ll define success. There’s a freedom that comes with self-directed learning that allows you to be in control.

Self directed learning doesn’t mean that nobody else can be involved in your education. It’s merely a way for a learner to decide what they most need out of the process, and how they will best develop their new skills. A college student can still practice self directed learning by determining what classes are best for them, what areas within a class they most need to focus on, whether a textbook or tutor will best help them learn, and if success is a grade or the grasp of a concept. The idea behind SDL is that you are motivated enough to decide how to learn and can take control of that process.


Successful business woman

Who has benefitted from lifelong learning?

From Mark Zuckerberg to Barack Obama, there are dozens of success stories of people who benefit from the skills acquired during self directed learning. Bill Gates reportedly read one book a week during his career. Many of the world’s busiest and smartest people, including Warren Buffett, spend at least one hour a day focused on deliberate learning.

While many of the most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders of our day didn’t finish college (Zuckerberg and Gates included), that in no way means that college education, online classes, or any other kinds of learning are invaluable. Rather, these successful entrepreneurs offer teaching moments to demonstrate that learning isn’t a moment in time, but is a constant need to progress a business or student forward. New technology, new marketing techniques, changes in regulations or systems all require growth.

While there a dozens of examples of successful business men and women who utilize self-directed education, the reality is that everyone who has ever succeeded can trace back a piece of their success to their ability and drive to continually learn and grow.


How can lifelong learning lead to business success?

Graduate with online cutout

Research and examples have shown that lifelong learning and self directed learning readiness are both keys to business success. Students who demonstrate the drive and ambition to want to progress with adult education often have the characteristics that make them successful in the business realm as well. And their continued learning helps them gain tools that are more likely to help them succeed. Discover how lifelong and self-directed learning help employees and entrepreneurs find this business success that benefits themselves, and their company.


A study on self directed learning shows that “in a survey of 253 human resources personnel, those employees who reported higher levels of self-motivation and achievement orientation also reported spending more hours completing SDL projects.” Employees who are highly motivated are intrinsically motivated to better themselves. They want to do well in their job and recognize that continued education will help them get there. And they don’t need to be assigned additional training or learning to wait to further that education; they are internally motivated advance and move forward in the process.


Research shows that employees who feel support from managers and coworkers are more likely to proceed with self directed learning. This suggests that environments play a large role in the continued education of entrepreneurs and employees. When encouragement, time, teaching, and positive feedback are given, a whole world of learning opportunities open up for motivated employees. It’s in employers, managers, and whole company’s best interests to encourage lifelong learning and growth for employees.

Internal locus of control.

People like to feel in control of their present and their future. High levels of ILOC means that individuals believe their actions impact what happens to them, low levels of ILOC means that individuals believe that fate controls consequences. Greater job commitment is seen from those with high levels of ILOC because they want to put in the work to have positive outcomes. This goes hand-in-hand with self directed learning. Adult learners with high ILOC recognize that making an effort to continue to learn and grow will have a positive outcome on them. Helping employees feel that control, and showing them that their behavior does benefit their outcomes will encourage them to want to progress in their learning. And when they make commitments to continue to learn, the whole company will benefit.


Employees who believe they can be successful in different situations have self-efficacy. This is crucial for lifelong learners who will have to find new ways and means to learn. Lifelong learning needs self-efficacy, and can also help develop it. As learners are willing to put themselves in new situations, the belief that they can succeed even in unfamiliar territory can help drive them. And as they do succeed in learning in new situations, their self-efficacy is built up. They take that experience and let it fuel and drive them for the next unfamiliar situation. This cycle is helpful in promoting lifelong learning, and builds confidence in employees, driving them to success.


Business success and lifelong learning have an obvious connection when you look at performance. Employees that go for self directed learning opportunities show greater performance in their jobs. It’s as simple as that. This is a huge benefit to the work community, both for large projects and day-to-day tasks. Those individuals who are encouraged to take on lifelong learning, and have the drive to take on this learning, are more successful in their tasks day-in and day-out. This connection comes from the skills they learn through self directed learning, and the overall attitude and character traits that made them want to learn in the first place.

How do online classes contribute to lifelong learning?

Online learning is actually an important element of lifelong learning. Students who take online courses or pursue a degree have to have that drive and motivation that comes with self directed learning. They are setting their own academic goals and standards for online programs or online courses, and whether they are an employee or a small business owner, their degree or academic accomplishments will help them grow. A college degree can help all kinds of employees and business owners evaluate their learning style and needs. Many students find that online education is an ideal way to practice being a self-directed learner. While taking classes online at places like WGU does have assignments and tests, the time and strategy of how you want to finish is really up to you. Online degree programs work well for online students who have that drive for self directed learning; they need the motivation and the ambition for more in order to sign up in the first place. Their whole routine and class schedule can be created around what they are willing to do, where they want to improve, the industry they are focused on, and how much effort they are willing to put in to their education. Nobody will babysit, make you do the work, or tell you what you have to do to succeed. That is entirely up to you. And that freedom and control is what will create business success down the line, if you let it.


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