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25 Famous Lifelong Learners Who Inspire Us All


For some, learning is primarily focused on formal schooling, beginning and ending with the classroom. But for others, education happens everywhere and exists as a lifelong pursuit. Whether they are learning through experience, books or other means, these lifelong enthusiasts inspire us with their tenacity for education.

  1. Arthur Ernest Morgan: A pioneer for flood control and dam construction methods, Arthur E. Morgan was a self-taught engineer. Although his education did not come from formal schooling, he went on to become president of Antioch College.
  2. Malcolm X: As an advocate for the rights of African-Americans, Malcolm X is admired by many. He dropped out of school, and after converting to Islam in prison, spent his time self-learning, eventually becoming an intellectual public figure.
  3. The Wright Brothers: Orville and Wilbur Wright conducted the first controlled human flight, and the first to invent controls for fixed-wing aircraft. These two were self-taught inventors and continued to study the field of aviation.
  4. Ansel Adams: Ansel Adams is one of the most famous and celebrated photographers in the world. He left school at an early age, but made continuous learning and innovation a priority in his life and work, allowing him to create the fine art we know him for today.
  5. Quentin Tarantino: Beloved for his films, including Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino is an incredibly popular and influential director. He dropped out of high school, instead preferring to learn filmmaking from his job in a video store.
  6. George Washington: The first President of the United States, George Washington had little formal education. He loved studying, particularly mathematics, and even worked as a surveyor after going on a relevant trip with his cousin.
  7. Florence Nightingale: A celebrated nurse and pioneer in nursing education, Nightingale herself was self-taught with some help from her father.
  8. Colonel Harland Sanders: Colonel Sanders, founder of the KFC empire, dropped out of school in the 6th grade. Upon reaching retirement age without much in the way of funds, Colonel Sanders decided to better himself with self-education and the founding of KFC.
  9. Nikola Tesla: Nikola Tesla is well known as an extraordinary inventor. He attended college, but preferred to study on his own.
  10. Michael Faraday: Michael Faraday's work led to the development of electrotechnology. One of the greatest scientists in the world, he was almost completely self-taught.
  11. Stanley Kubrick: Stanley Kubrick was a celebrated director. He was a poor student and disdained school. Instead of formal education, Kubrick sat in on classes and pursued self-learning.
  12. George Bernard Shaw: George Bernard Shaw had irregular education, but went on to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925. With intensive reading, debating and lecturing, Shaw was able to educate himself throughout his life.
  13. Bill Gates: Bill Gates recognizes that continuous learning and self-improvement is essential to success. He often picks up a copy of Time to read cover to cover, not just browsing, but soaking up everything to ensure that he learns something he didn't know before.
  14. Martin Van Buren: Although his formal education ended at 13, Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, went on to study law as an apprentice at a firm.
  15. Walt Whitman: Walt Whitman is one of America's most important poets. He was a reading lover, teaching himself to write, and even self published.
  16. Abraham Lincoln: Before becoming the sixteenth President of the United States, Lincoln was a self-educated lawyer, even though he had less than a year of formal schooling. He didn't read excessively, but carefully studied each book he did read to be sure he completely understood them.
  17. Alexander Graham Bell: The man we know as the inventor of the telephone and telegraph was self-taught. He only attended a few lectures in college, but continued to learn and experiment throughout his life.
  18. Benjamin Franklin: Benjamin Franklin is a celebrated American statesman, and an autodidact as well. Franklin took to learning on his own, working with those with experience to understand topics like gulf streams, Italian and meteorology.
  19. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A widely celebrated English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning educated herself with Shakespearean plays and classic literature. She remained a ravenous reader, learning through books for her entire life.
  20. James Baldwin: James Baldwin was born into poverty and achieved only a high school education. Upon graduation, he pursued passionate self-education, using his learning to become a celebrated writer and Civil Rights activist.
  21. Abigail Adams: The First Lady to the second President of the United States, and mother of the sixth, Abigail Adams was well-educated without ever attending school. She was tutored and loved to read, simply for the desire to bolster her generous intellect.
  22. Walt Disney: The namesake and co-founder of Walt Disney, this cartoonist taught himself to draw through correspondence school and continued to learn throughout his life.
  23. John Harrison: John Harrison was the inventor of the marine chronometer and a self-educated clockmaker. He lacked the credentials of some of his peers because of this, and got assistance from the king to get credit for his accomplished education.
  24. Frank Lloyd Wright: Frank Lloyd Wright is easily America's most famous architect. He learned and developed his own style of architecture, drawing from methods of his own creation.
  25. Ray Bradbury: Ray Bradbury was a prolific science fiction writer, with more than 30 books and over 500 works. He graduated from high school, but his impressive education is largely due to independent reading.

June 6th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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