There are many clichés that are attached to the concept of continual education. Two examples are “You’re never too old to learn,” and “We must continually re-invent ourselves.” Yes, clichés tend to be true, and so these are. But a deeper examination can help us understand the underlying value of continuing education and its effect on our work and our psyche. And as IT and Communications professionals, I believe it is critically important that we continually expand our basic frame of reference as we apply ourselves to the development, delivery and management of applications and data. Continuing education enhances that frame of reference and allows us to connect an ever-widening set of dots.
Assuming that you buy into the fact that we must continue to learn to stay relevant, the question that arises has to do with the content of our continuing education. Should it be training oriented, or should it be designed to give us a solid grounding in the world around us and the accompanying world of ideas? While skills training has direct value as people exercise professional flexibility in today’s depressed job market, more generalized, liberal studies should not be dismissed as a superfluous luxury with no impact on our ability to maintain relevance.
Enhancing our general educational foundation improves the basis for a more informed and more textured world view. And that world view allows us to bring a richer sense of context to the specific subject matter that we embark upon as IT professionals. Many continuing, non-matriculating liberal arts courses are available, but one of the most convenient sets is offered by Yale University. You can view this interesting set of courses online free of charge.
There is also of subset of non-degree learning opportunities that lie between basic studies and specific skills training. These are programs that deal with a particular discipline but approach it with courses that surround the topic and deal with different aspects of the subject – a college major in miniature. These types of programs (e.g. in Management, Finance, Communications, Digital Media, etc.) can be extremely valuable as they deal with a particular environment that is important. They also build a portfolio of skills-based competency. Again, these types of Continuing Education programs are readily available, but a particularly good set of offerings comes from Georgetown University, where I am participating.
As we all know, the world has changed significantly in recent years. The importance of staying personally competitive is critical in today’s economy, the looming future of European implosion, and declining investment yields. The cliché of “It’s never too late to learn” has been changed to “It is imperative to learn at any age.” Let us embrace the opportunity as we individually apply ourselves to the new world and collectively reinforce our competitiveness in the global economy and workforce.