Many adults are going back to school or seeking active learning experiences. With our changing economy and culture, many adults who thought they were done with “school” are finding themselves back in the classroom. For some it’s a new adventure, for others their worst nightmare.

Why are so many of us afraid to learn something new?

Why do we feel it will be “hard” to change?

There are a variety of reasons. Bad learning experiences in the past may have encouraged a negative view toward formal learning. We may have been teased for asking a question. We may be afraid of failure. We may just be feeling stress and overwhelm at the thought of what may seem like starting over. We may not have been encouraged to be a lifelong learner.

We forget that we actually are learning everyday of our life! We are having new experiences, applying things we learned in the past to new things, we’re visiting new places, reading new books, meeting new people – all of those things are learning.

Whether you’re learning because you must or just for fun, what I wish for you is to become a confident learner and to be able to do or learn anything you desire!

Following are some suggested exercises to help you. It might be helpful to begin a journal to answer these questions as well as write down other thoughts and ideas you have. Maintaining a journal is an excellent learning tool.

Finding your Learning Style is one thing that will help build your confidence. We need to know ourselves, really know ourselves in order to become a confident learner.

Try this out for a week: write down your daily experiences, shows or movies watched and what you liked about them, people you met, did you like them, what did you notice about them, what happened at work, how you handled problems that arose, did anything happen that stood out, something particularly funny or something that upset you.

Here are some more questions to help you develop your learning goals and become a confident learner as well as determining what types of learning will fit your life best.

What types of activities do you most enjoy? competitive, relaxing, challenging, thought-provoking, laid-back, humorous?

What have you always dreamed of doing?

Do you have specific hobbies that you could develop and learn more about? Are there associations or clubs to become involved in?

Do you have friends or family with similar interest that you could take a class with?

In your normal day, when do you feel most alert, most sluggish, etc. Try to determine what times will be best for you to take classes or volunteer. You want to be in a good mood and open to the experience.

What have you always feared? Why not tackle that fear by learning more about it or facing it by just doing? For example, if you fear speaking in front of a group, why not volunteer to teach a group of students some skill or knowledge that you have. Teachers are always looking for new ways to enhance their classroom learning - call a local school and tell them what you have in mind.

When you look back at your journal after a week, look at all the learning you've already done! Take some time to read through your notes and identify new learning opportunities. Then take the next step to actively seek out these new experiences.

Using learning styles to become a confident learner is also about identifying how you learn best. Here are a few more questions to ask yourself.

• What types of learning activities do you seem to like best?
• Do you easily remember what you hear?
• Is watching someone perform a task all you need to try it on your own?
• Do you like to use your hands and actually learn as you do the task?
• What peaks your curiosity?
• Do you enjoy reading?
• Do you like working alone or is collaborating with a group more comfortable?
• How do you best communicate with others?

Identify how you learn best and incorporate that to your own life and choices. When you are learning is the best way for you – it instantly builds your confidence as a learner!

When you need to learn a new task or want to learn something, try to find a learning environment that meets your preferences. For example, if you learn best hands-on, try taking an adult enrichment class or volunteering in a position where you'll learn by doing. If you learn easily by watching, try a video course or how-to. Listening to audiotapes while in the car or doing housework is great for learners who remember what they hear.

When you look for new learning opportunities, keep in mind that you want to get the most of it. You’ll easily gain confidence when you are able to associate the new skill or information with what you already know. Having a point of reference will also keep your interest and make the experience more enjoyable. It's important to remember that learning does not need to be an isolated, separate experience. As a confident, lifelong learner, work, learning, living, and socializing become intertwined experiences.

Another way to build our confidence is to share what we learn or what we already know and the easiest way to do that is to volunteer! We can also use volunteering to learn new skills. There are thousands of volunteer opportunities in just about every field and interest. Your local community resource center should be able to help you find a match for your skills, interests, and goals.

In the past several years, we've seen less government run community programs which has shifted that burden to the community itself. Since these community organizations run much like a business, they have needs not only for the services they provide, but with the actual business side too, such as accounting, management, and human resources. It's a great opportunity to explore new interests and learn a new skill. Volunteering offers options in many diverse areas. Therapeutic riding programs are becoming popular in many areas and need volunteers to help care for the horses as well as walk with the horse and riders. Junior Achievement encourages businessmen and women to share and teach students in local schools about what they do as well as general business skills. Public museums, libraries, and zoos often look for volunteers to guide tours, care for animals, teach research skills, and more. Especially if cost is an issue, volunteering can be a great way to learn and build confidence!

Many people now even take vacations with learning in mind. Volunteer vacations are increasing in popularity. These vacations allow you to use your skills to help others and learn in the process. Study vacations are also an option. You can go to a beautiful or exciting location and take a class, learn a language, visit historic places, and more.

Where else can you go to continue on the journey of confident, lifelong learning?

• Local school districts - ask about adult education and enrichment programs
• Community and Senior Citizen Centers
• Libraries, Museums
• Colleges and Universities
• United Way for volunteer information
• YMCA and YWCA
• Read local papers for activities of interest
• Audition with a local theatre group
• Talk to your friends - Ask them what they do
• Churches
• Elderhostel
• Private Training and Workshop centers

Community programs often offer recreational learning in all kinds of activities - find one of interest and sign up. These are usually low or no cost. Classes are offered in computers, languages, sports, learning home repair, learning about financial planning, dance, reading, genealogy, and more. We learn by doing - so do something - become an active participant in the world, instead of just a passenger going round and round.

There are many benefits to learning. Of course, it can build our confidence, but we can also make new friends, enhance our social life, increase or advance career options, escape and break routines, have some fun, meet goals, adapt to job changes, stimulate our mind, or even do something good for the community. Open your mind to truly see the world and gain knowledge. We have the potential to do and learn anything.

Now let's recap some of the strategies shared here to make the most of your learning experiences. Remember the best way to become confident in our learning is to apply newly gained knowledge or information into our own lives.
Simple steps to become a Confident Learner:

• Start a journal
• Identify your personal interests & learning preferences
• Look at both your current work situation and your goals - identify areas for learning and growth
• Find at least one volunteer opportunity that fits your schedule, interests, and needs
• Determine (and find) what formal learning options you need or want to meet your goals and interests

You’re already a lifelong learner, you just may not have realized it until now. Now you can become a confident learner too!

Author's Bio: 

Tina Nies, of 40DayLoveFest.com is an Entrepreneurial Coach and Speaker inspiring local success. Her passion is empowering entrepreneurs to develop their vision to know what is really important to them and create action strategies for success as they grow and explore their happiness in business and life.

Tina’s experience includes 16 years as a consultant, college instructor, corporate trainer, and community trainer. She completed her undergraduate studies in Business Administration at the University of Michigan and earned her MBA in Business Leadership from Windsor University. She has worked with clients around the world and across the United States. She divides her time between the San Francisco Bay area and Lower Michigan.