Lifelong Learning and Nerd Immunity

Can the promotion of continuous learning and skill development contribute to a faster and resilient COVID-19 recovery? Banner image: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future.

To keep updated on all of the OECD's work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub.


By now, our societies know that vaccines are good: they protect the individuals who are inoculated, and those around them are protected in turn. Yet many do not want to have a jab, and so we worry about how best to reduce vaccine hesitancy.

Skills share many characteristics with vaccines. They are good for you—socially, economically and psychologically. They also contribute to the greater good: individuals with stronger skills create work environments that are more productive and generate more jobs. Skills are what enabled scientists to understand very quickly how COVID-19 spreads, zero in on the groups at highest risk of contracting the virus and develop effective treatments and vaccines. Skills also enabled artists to write, compose or perform the books, music and plays that have provided joy and such welcome relief during the long months of lockdown.

The new OECD report Learning for Life demonstrates that building lifelong learning attitudes helps children develop their skills, as well as pursue opportunities in work and everyday life that emphasise further learning. It stresses that learning is possible anywhere, although some contexts make it more accessible and enjoyable.

Read the OECD Skills Outlook 2021 report: "Learning for Life " and visit the OECD's COVID-19 Hub to browse hundreds of policy responses

Nurturing the nerd within

The best way to promote skill development and acquisition? Develop a habit of learning! Children love to learn new things, but growing up and moving into the world of work often means forfeiting that love. As societies, we frequently mock “eternal students”, who love to learn above all else. But just as we combat vaccine hesitancy, we should fight narratives that discourage lifelong learning. Instead, we should celebrate those who have a lifelong learning mindset. We should promote nerd immunity.

Lifelong learning benefits everyone

In a world permeated by rapid and constant technological change, individuals who have a lifelong learning mindset are more adaptable and enjoy better life outcomes. When many of today’s prime-age workers completed their formal education 25 or 30 years ago, technologies such as Zoom, PowerPoint and Slack didn’t exist. Individuals who pursued learning outside the classroom and updated their digital skills were more agile and responsive to new needs as the COVID19 pandemic unfolded, and are better prepared to tackle future hurdles.

More on the Forum Network: "Bridging the Digital Literary Gap is Essential for Equity in Aging" by Lawrence Kosick, Co-Founder, GetSetUp

More on the Forum Network: "Bridging the Digital Literary Gap is Essential for Equity in Aging" by Lawrence Kosick, Co-Founder, GetSetUpMore on the Forum Network: "Bridging the Digital Literary Gap is Essential for Equity in Aging" by Lawrence Kosick, Co-Founder, GetSetUp

Having a lifelong learning mindset also benefits others. For example, teachers who invested in building their digital skills before the pandemic or developing technology-based pedagogical approaches were better armed to help their students navigate the transition to remote learning. Similarly, all other things being equal, parents with higher literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and digital skills were better equipped to turn their homes into classrooms.

Paving the way to recovery

Lifelong learning has benefits for individuals, families and society. Focusing on vaccine-based herd immunity will help exit the global health emergency—but promoting nerd immunity through continuous learning and skill development will pave the way for economic recovery and resilience.

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Francesca Borgonovi

Head, Skills Analysis, Centre for Skills, OECD

Francesca Borgonovi is the Head of the Skills Analysis team in the OECD Centre for Skills where she leads work on the Skills Outlook biennial publication. She was previously responsible for analytical and developmental work in the OECD-led international assessments (PISA and PIAAC) and the Education for Inclusive Societies project. Francesca is an expert on policy relevant analyses on skills. She has written extensively on methodological aspects related to skills measurement and the measurement of attitudes and self-beliefs in a comparative perspective. She has also been responsible for analyses of gender and socio-economic disparities in academic achievement, student engagement and motivation and the role of skills among older population in promoting positive economic and social outcomes.