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Most of us have one or two areas of knowledge that we strive to know very well — things related to our jobs, of course, and maybe a hobby or two. But while it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the things that matter most to us, it is just as important to develop a broad understanding of the world in general.

A lot of unfortunate people think that learning for the sake of learning is something for schoolchildren, and maybe college students. All the things there are to learn and know that don’t impact directly on their immediate lives they dismiss as “trivia”. Out in the “real world”, they think, there’s no time for such frivolities — there’s serious work to get done!

There are a lot of good, practical reasons to make learning something new a part of your daily routine, but the best reason has nothing to do with practicality — we are learning creatures, and the lifelong practice of learning is what makes us humans and our lives worthwhile. If that idealistic musing’s not enough, here’s some more down-to-earth benefits:

  • Learning across a wide range of subjects gives us a range of perspectives to call on in our own narrow day-to-day areas of specialization.
  • Learning helps us more easily and readily adapt to new situations.
  • A broad knowledge of unfamiliar situations feeds innovation by inspiring us to think creatively and providing examples to follow.
  • Learning deepens our character and makes us more inspiring to those around us.
  • Learning makes us more confident.
  • Learning instills an understanding of the historical, social, and natural processes that impact and limit our lives.
  • And, like I said, there’s the whole “making like worth living” thing.

There is, after all, a reason the term “well-read” is a compliment.

With the entire world of knowledge just a few mouse-clicks away, it has never been easier than it is right now to learn something new and unexpected every day. Here are a few simple ways to make expanding your horizons a part of your daily routine:

  • Subscribe to Wikipedia’s “Featured Article” list. Every day, Wikipedia posts an article selected from its vast repository of entries to it’s Daily-article-l subscribers. If you were a subscriber today, you would have recently discovered that Daylight Saving Time was first proposed by William Willett in 1907 and adopted during World War I as a way to conserve coal. You might have also been interested to find out that Kazakhstan discontinued Daylight Saving Time in 2005 because of alleged health risks associated with changed sleep patterns.
  • Read The Free Dictionary’s homepage or subscribe to its feeds. The Free Dictionary has several daily features on its front page, including Article of the Day (RSS), In the News (RSS), This Day in History (RSS), and Today’s Birthday (RSS). One recent day’s stories told the history of the Hell’s Angels, the identity of the new “7 Wonders of the World”, the origin of the first cultured pearl, and the life story of one of the world’s most prominent tenors.
  • Subscribe to the feed at Your Daily Art (RSS). Every day you’ll be confronted with a classic work of art to contemplate, along with a few notes about the piece. If you were subscribed right now, you might have recently seen Man Ray’s intriguing and playful “Le Violin d’Ingres” and Frank Weston Benson’s luminous “Red and Gold”.
  • Subscribe to the feeds at Did You Know? and Tell Me Why?. These sites are both run by an R. Edmondson, who certainly knows a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. Updates are slightly less than daily, but I like the two sites so much I couldn’t leave them off this list. If you were a subscriber to these sites, you’d have recently learned why clouds are white, what the European Union is, the French terms for the days of the week and the months of the year, and the history of the development of public health efforts in response to the hazards of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Listen to podcasts like In Our Time and Radio Open Source. Radio Open Source is a daily interview/panel show covering everything from politics to science to art and literature to the greatness of the movie Groundhog Day. (At the moment, Radio Open Source is on summer hiatus, but subscribe anyway — they’ll be back!) For a history of the events and ideas that shaped the present, In Our Time is ideal: a weekly gathering of scholars discussing subjects as diverse as the life of Joan of Arc, theories of gravity, and what we know about the Permian-Triassic boundary. Subscribe to a handful of good, literary podcasts and get smart while you drive!

Check the directory at Elite Skills for more sources: there are college course podcasts, online documentaries, foreign language lessons, and more — all free. Believe it or not, your head will expand to fit whatever you try to stuff into it!

Which is really the whole point.

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