Back to School: Learning Never Ends

By Kristen Harris

It’s Back to School time! The ads are running, and stacks of notebooks, folders and pens are popping up on endcaps everywhere. This time of year gets me really excited--I loved school, and I still love buying a fresh pack of pens. But Back to School is not about the pens, notebooks or new clothes; it’s about getting back to learning.

While there is no official Back to School season for working professionals, our learning never ends; it’s a year-round, lifelong activity. And, no matter who you are or what you do, even if you hated school, now learning can be fun because it’s focused on things you like and are interested in. Basically the whole educational curriculum is built around you. Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s the catch…you have to build the curriculum. No committee or school board is going to decide what you need to learn or how it’s going to be taught. It’s your call. You can learn new skills directly related to your current role, or new technology that’s on the horizon. Choose to explore a new area that is growing in your industry, or learn more about a related field. You can even pursue a totally unrelated interest that broadens your knowledge or sparks creativity. There is no end to what you can learn, so why limit yourself?

Does this all sound too daunting? The choices can be overwhelming. Or maybe you hated school, and I’ve given you flashbacks to being stuck in the classroom with a teacher droning on and on and on. No worries. There’s a wide range of options, from formal group classes to online individual learning, or socially-driven peer-to-peer events.

With so many ways to learn, there’s bound to be something that fits your needs, style and schedule.

Here are a few options, from most formal to least:

·      College or University Classes. Take traditional or continuing education classes, or pursue a degree, depending on your interests and needs. There are a variety of institutions, from small colleges to large universities, community colleges, and online universities. As an added benefit, some employers offer tuition reimbursement as well.

·      Employer-Sponsored Learning. Many employers offer training or education programs for their employees. These classes can cover everything from software to leadership skills, communication, customer service, and more. Ask your manager or HR department what options may be available.

·      Community Events, Industry Groups and Meetups. Many organizations and industry groups host events, including speakers, workshops, panel discussions, and continuing education seminars. Grass-roots groups and events are often organized through Meetup or other social media. Follow organizations that are interesting to you or related to your industry to find out what’s being offered.

·      MOOCs. Through the power of the internet, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) allow access to courses on a variety of topics, often taught by educators at premier colleges and universities. It’s possible to gain the equivalent of a college education through these courses, and some institutions are now offering degrees as well. This route requires strong individual learning skills and commitment, no one will be checking up on you.

·      Online Training and YouTube. Sites like Lynda.com offer a variety of courses, mainly skills and technology focused, and videos about how to do nearly anything can be found on YouTube. These are helpful if you’re a visual learner, and looking for information on a very specific topic.

·      Books. Yes, I still read books. Whether you like physical books or use an e-reader, books are still a great way to learn, and both are available at your local library.

·      Ask a friend. Want to learn something a friend knows or does? Ask them to teach you. And pay them back by teaching something you know. It’s fun, and gives you and excuse to socialize too!

No matter what or how you learn, just keep doing it. Staying interested keeps us interesting, and that does matter in a constantly-changing world.