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How to Continue Educating Yourself Without Going Back to School

I love school. I’ll be the first to admit it, I’d be a professional student if the idea of piling on debt wasn’t so unappealing given the current economic and political climate. Studying for hours on end, reading hundreds of pages of dense material each week, and sitting in three-hour seminars doesn’t sound like a punishment to me. Rather, besides directly calling back to my time as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, it makes me smile. But not everyone feels the same way about education that I do. However, continuing your education whether you’re at the beginning, middle, or end of your professional career is increasingly important.

The Need to Stay Informed

The world is changing. We’ve heard it a million times before, but across every sector and industry, it still holds true. The only constant in our world is change. The startup and entrepreneurial community is not immune to that. Not only do we need to stay abreast with the current state of our industries, we also need to be informed as to potential changes that can or will be made in the future.

The difference between staying informed and staying well enough informed to make predictive assumptions might be a moot point for some of us. Even in the startup and SME community, not all of us are decision makers who need to have the foresight necessary for our companies’ strategic moves. Regardless of your position, staying informed and current in your field comes with a slew of benefits.

Staying current in your industry may look very different, depending upon your role and the sector that you’re involved in. If you’re a data analyst, learning new customer relationship management (CRM) programs will require more technical training than it would if you’d like to strengthen your proposal writing skills.

 

 

Abundant Sources for Learning

The Internet has been a great equalizer when it comes to access, particularly in education. Thirty years ago, the vast majority of us would be hard pressed to attend a lecture by a world-renowned expert in an obscure field. Now, all it takes is a simple search online. While we can debate the pros and cons of the digital age, I strongly believe that having more information in our hands, when used correctly, can be an asset in our professional lives.

Everyone who writes about continuing education mentions resources such as the Khan Academy. This repetition isn’t for our own sake, it’s because this is still such a fantastic source of information for all levels. Other online education platforms, such as Coursera and Open Culture, allow you to take full courses on the topic of your choice from the best universities in the world. Many top universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT offer their own open courses on their own .edu pages as well. If you’re more of a traditional learner, local community and junior colleges offer a wide variety of courses that may be relevant to your fields.

Take some time out of your day and read the news. I start off nearly every morning by checking my emails and reading the latest headlines from five or six different publications. We live in a 24-hour news cycle, and many of us feel overwhelmed by the amount of poor journalism and reporting that you have to sift through to find reputable information. Whether you love the news or hate it, you need to know it.

Bookmark major publications that provide the information you need to stay up on, such as Forbes for those of you on the economic side of things, and make it a habit to check them regularly, especially if you’re in an industry where breaking news can have a significant impact on your day to day startup activities.

The biggest danger here is being too dependent on one source. Like your bonds, you need to diversify your information centers. Overdependence on one source can lead to you missing news on an important issue in your field if that source happens to not cover it.

Using Networks to Educate Yourself

Professional networks are also great sources of information and opportunities to continue growing your industry knowledge. Every major city has a host of professional organizations that are dedicated to a certain industry or sector. If you’re in a large enough field, there will likely be organizations that are further stratified into smaller groups, such as women or young professionals. These are good ways to link up with others in your field for networking purposes, and to stay up to date on changes that other firms are experiencing. If your locale doesn’t have an organization established, LinkedIn offers you a virtual network of contacts.

Within your professional network, a mentor can help you navigate a changing field. You can lean on this mentor for support and advice, and they may be able to help you build out a particular skill, such as public speaking or Java programming. Additionally, You can gather a small group of contacts who also want to stay informed in your shared field, and make it a point to meet up once a month and share what you’ve experienced.

Staying informed and up to date in your field is a conscious process. As you learn to seek out the best sources of information, you’ll be able to parse through the unnecessary bits and find the pieces that are critical to you and your needs. Becoming a subject matter expert in your field makes you stand out in your workplace and in the greater startup community, and can allow you to further your professional goals with the data and information to back you up along the way.

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Staff Writer: Cassidy Welter is a Chicago based researcher at a consulting firm specializing in nonprofits. When she's not working, she's reading anything she can get her hands on, debating politics, watching the Pittsburgh Penguins and eating her way across the city's food scene. See more from Cassidy on Twitter at @CassidyWelter.

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Staff Writer: Cassidy Welter is a Chicago based researcher at a consulting firm specializing in nonprofits. When she's not working, she's reading anything she can get her hands on, debating politics, watching the Pittsburgh Penguins and eating her way across the city's food scene. See more from Cassidy on Twitter at @CassidyWelter.

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