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Podcast: Lifetime learning enhances your life and career

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This article originally appeared in Career Opportunities: Helping to Build the Career You Deserve” with Douglas E Welch


“Where can I learn about X?” “How to do I do this in Word/Excel/Powerpoint?” “Can I find out more about Y?” These are questions I hear from people almost everyday. There is a great need for learning, for education, even if the current educational system is under attack from all sides. Blame it on the bad economy and the need to re-learn, re-train, re-invigorate your career, but learning — and its more formal cousin — education have never been more important to you, your life and your career.

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When I talk about learning and education, I am not necessarily telling you to go back to school or college. In my own life, I see education as something I do every day in every way. In recent years, I have watched my wife return to college and achieve her Masters and Doctorate degrees. I am amazed at how much work and dedication she put into the process, but I also realized that that path was not for me.

Instead, I am a self-directed learner. I follow whatever topic strikes my interest, often going “down the rabbit hole” on a particular topic and totally immersing myself in it. This works for me. It keeps me learning and allows me to see connections between what may otherwise seem to be totally unrelated areas of knowledge. The best part, though, is that it has never been easier in the history of man to be a self-directed learner. The Internet has brought  a wealth of information directly to our homes, computers and hands. Never before have we been able to access so much information so quickly and easily.

My Method

One important method I use to engage in lifetime learning is stopping. Whenever I am confronted with a word or topic I do not know, I stop, immediately and look it up. Maybe the word bifurcation pops up in a newspaper story or I see mention of the Teapot Dome scandal in something I am reading. For me, it is important that I stop and take a moment to learn a bit more before I move on with my reading or work. It may sound like an interruption in your work or day, but this style of “just-in-time” learning has helped me greatly over the years.

A few resources

So, where do I turn when I want to learn something new? Below are a few resources to start your own journey. These are my “go to” sources whenever any topic piques my interest.

Wikipedia

I know, I know. You hear all sorts of disparaging things about Wikipedia, but the truth is that it is a great source to start your learning. Wikipedia offers an overview of nearly any particular topic or area and might even include enough detail to answer your question. Sure, the more controversial topics can be a little contentious, but for your average areas of interest, it is a great place to start.

YouTube

I often hear that the joke that “everything is on YouTube” , but in some ways this is almost true. Want to learn how to format columns in MS Word? Done. See an old silent movie that is difficult to find otherwise? Done. Want to see a lecture on DNA/RNA replication? Done! Sure, the quality may vary from video to video and you might have to search for a while until you find the exact information you are looking for, but there is a host of great information to be found there.

New Learning Sites

Lately there have been an explosion of web sites dedicated to learning. Recently I was using Khan Academey’s algebra lessons to help my son, and I have watched videos on many topics there as well. Even established colleges are getting into the act including computer science classes  and more from Stanford University and MIT. Sites like Code Academy are enticing everyone to learn a little bit about the programming that surrounds our lives today. Finally, iTunes U is back in the news after Apple’s recent announcement about electronic textbooks. Revisiting iTunes U recently, I was amazed at the breadth of content available there. It isn’t all just computer science. There are classes on creative writing, art, history and just about any topic you can imagine.

In 2012 you truly have no reason or excuse to avoid learning something new every day. Sometimes you will be learning it for your career and sometimes you will be learning just because you want to learn. Regardless of the reason, lifetime learning will continue to be one of the largest factors in your success. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep applying what you learn and your are on a clear path to the career you deserve.

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