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How investing in lifelong learning pays off

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For most of us, investing in education begins with our parents when we are 3 or 4 years old. The costs mount through primary school and up to university. Even after we graduate from university, the costs of our education continue as we either pursue further education or training at work.

Learning will always cost us, whether it be in terms of money, time or energy. We all view these costs differently. Some people or companies see learning as an unavoidable expense, while some see it as an investment that yields real returns. 

In any case, the expense or investment doesn’t just mean putting money on the table -- it includes the time and effort you put into the cause. You can choose to see it as a mere payment or a payment with a return.

There are other reasons why we see learning differently. It could depend on our priorities, other responsibilities, or whether we are doing the learning, as opposed to someone else in our family or on our team at work.

The fact is that learning requires a lot from us, and it’s not just a one-time thing or an activity that takes place in a fixed period of time. Continuous learning isn’t a product or service that has an expiry date. It isn’t something we use a couple of times and later throw away. True learning can never be taken away from you; once you learn something, you have it in you for live, to use as you see fit.

But here’s the tough part: learning isn’t like investing in real estate or the stock market where there is a clear number on the return on investment. That could be why many of us view it as just an expense we pay to acquire something. But, we can measure the return from learning; it just might not be as direct, and sometimes it could be subjective.

Learning should be viewed more as a long-term investment. The following explains why.

Whether you go to class, attend training workshops, read books or even speak with those knowledgeable in a certain field or topic, you are constantly acquiring knowledge. This brings us to the first point -- continuous learning keeps us up-to-date in this constantly changing world.

Some information we come across may have once been useful in the past, but it might not be as relevant today. Constantly learning allows us to update ourselves on current and relevant knowledge. If we do not spend the time learning, what we know and the skills we have will become redundant.

Third, learning allows you to strengthen your current skills or gain new ones. If we see people as investments by our organisation, their learning and skills also become an investment. When you invest in people’s learning, you invest in building them and thus, building the business.

Some may counter that risk is involved when investing in people, as some are likely to leave and use their new skills in another company. But as a very popular saying goes: “A CFO asks a CEO: What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us? The CEO responds: What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

Fourth, learning can be used to create results in every aspects of life, work and business. Just as learning builds skills, it can also help you create better results in your personal or work life. In this sense, learning becomes an investment because there is return.

When it comes to learning, however, the return of investment may not be as straightforward as the KPIs you have to achieve. But, look at it this way: whether you’re a fresh graduate, a long-time employee, or even the business owner, we don’t know everything. If we don’t invest in our learning, we’ll stay the same and won’t be able to move anywhere.

In the end, learning changes us and, most of the time, it does so for the better. When we learn new things, we add new insights and try new approaches. It could be more efficient or more productive, but we are bettering ourselves through learning. That, in itself, is the return you get from investing in learning.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or


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