Mini-Series: Keep learning, stay healthy

Photo credit: Pixabay, thumprchgo, CC0

In this mini-series post, Kate McHugh, the Deputy Head of Short Courses (Learning and Teaching) at the Centre for Open Learning, explains how  engaging in lifelong learning leads to positive wellbeing and mental health…

As we work to teach and support our students as they navigate their way through their studies, it might be helpful, before the new academic year begins, to pause and think about new learning for ourselves. Lifelong learning, or “Keep Learning” has recently been identified by the British Government and practitioners alike as one of the 5 Ways to Mental Wellbeing. Alongside being active, connecting, taking notice and giving, research shows that learning throughout adulthood can have a positive impact on both our mental health and wellbeing.

Why does learning help our wellbeing? 

There are many benefits to lifelong learning, ranging from the small and intangible to the large and profound. Here are a few highlighted as food for thought:  

Self-worth and confidence  

No matter how big or small, experiencing something new or learning a new skill helps us to feel better about ourselves. Building our knowledge and skills helps to boost self-esteem and confidence to tackle future obstacles or goals.

Sense of purpose  

Linked with increased confidence, learning can also help us to enjoy a sense of purpose or meaning in life. Knowledge and reflection of conquering that challenge, taking that course, or joining that community group, helps us look to the future and feel hopeful or set more goals – long story short, learning helps us to keep going.


Sometimes learning happens on your own, but often it involves being around others and learning from others. This could mean being a member in a class, a book club, or attending an Open Lecture. Being part of a community helps us to connect with our environment and naturally boosts our mood.

Coping with stress 

When we are learning something new, it forces us to focus on the present moment. This helps to reduce stress, which often is connected to worrying about the past or the future. Being mindful in the present moment is a calming place to be, and can be found more easily when focusing on a new task or topic in front of us.

Ways to keep learning 

“Begin Anywhere” – John Cage  

Setting yourself on a path towards learning can mean embracing informal learning as well as more formal learning in the classroom. If you close your eyes and envision yourself doing something new, chances are that all types of activities will present themselves. It could be as simple as trying a new recipe over the weekend, or tackling that DIY project on your to-do list. You might prefer to take yourself on an outing to visit a local gallery, library or museum. At work, you could consider joining a new committee, taking on a new task, or shadowing a colleague for the day. These types of experiences can all trigger the same benefits as many formal learning settings will. If you’re keen for something just a bit more formal, the University’s Centre for Open Learning has several ways to help you on your keep learning journey:

The Centre for Open Learning 

The Centre for Open Learning offers daytime and evening short courses for adults, open to all. Subjects range from archaeology to graphic design, creative writing to art history, philosophy to physics and much more. We also run a variety of language courses offered at many different levels, from the very beginner hoping to pick up phrases for holidays, to advanced mastery of a chosen language. Courses range in length, from one day to 10-weeks long, and are offered for both credit and non-credit.

Taking pride in the mantra of keep learning, the Centre offers one course per year for free to its staff, which is enjoyed immensely. And of course, there are other discounts available to our valued colleagues across the university:

  • 10% Short Course discount for all University of Edinburgh staff
  • 10% Short Course discount for all University of Edinburgh alumni
  • 33% Short Course discount for full-time University of Edinburgh students

The Centre also runs a series of Open Lectures. These are free to all to attend, and they celebrate the research, projects, collaborations, events, and professional practices of our teaching staff.

We’re always keen to help our colleagues with their learning so please don’t hesitate to contact the Centre.

Tips & Tricks

I hope this post may have inspired you to move your own learning towards the top of your list, and prioritise your wellbeing and mental health in a few, new ways.

A few tips and tricks to help you along the way:

  • Be patient: Learning something new takes time. Give yourself some space to adjust.
  • Choose things you are interested in: Pick things you are going to want to do. It will help with your motivation, commitment, and enjoyment of the project.
  • Find a friend: Bring somebody along on the journey, it’s a great way to connect.
  • Set a goal: Another useful method for motivation, setting a goal (and accomplishing it!) are great ways to celebrate your success.
  • Keep learning: Now that you’ve reached the end of this blog, you’ve possibly learned something new already?! Congratulations and keep going!

Kate McHugh

Kate McHugh is the Deputy Head of Short Courses (Learning and Teaching) at the Centre for Open Learning. With a background in wellbeing provision and adult education, she is working to build a friendly and open academic community across the Centre and wider University. In post since April 2018, she has focussed on supporting opportunities for professional developing of teaching staff, such as launching a peer observation scheme and encouraging community engagement. Kate also works to support unique learning opportunities offered across the Short Courses programme, a suite of diverse courses open to the public.

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