Fall is just around the corner and students across the nation have visions of highlighters and post-it notes dancing in their heads. This will be my second year not returning to the pearly gates of higher education and I think I’m beginning to miss it. Not just the football games and sorority recruitment, but the thrill of taking a class I know nothing about and learning something, anything, everything new.
Sitting in a lecture hall learning the intricacies of game theory, the origins of propaganda, or how volcanoes form and erupt was, in retrospect, easy. It was easy to sit, listen and absorb information in neat 1.5 hour chunks. It was easy to go home or to the library and read lecture notes, textbooks and course packs. The exams? Not always so easy. The pre-made structure delivered by syllabus and enforced by professor at the start of each semester made it easy to determine what was most important to learn, when and why it was most important.
Once you leave college I think it gets a little harder to learn new things. It requires constant effort to seek out opportunities to become smarter, more informed, more qualified. You certainly don’t have the luxurious structure of lecture, lecture, discussion, problem set, lecture, lecture, midterm. Lather, rinse, repeat. More often than not, it becomes our responsibility to create and follow through on the expectation of continuing education. In our technology-focused and inter-connected world, it’s not for lack of resources that inform and educate. It’s more for lack of time and energy.
As easy as it was to fall into the status quo of lectures in college, it’s just as easy to fall into the routine of email, conference call, TPS report in the office. Sure, you’re still learning (“you learn something new every day” wouldn’t be in such frequent use if this weren’t true). But the process of learning isn’t as neatly packaged as it used to be and I’ve found that I have to work harder to continue to learn new things.
I am undoubtedly learning every single day – navigating Excel and Google analytics and learning how to make the perfect pot of coffee to name a few. But to formally reach outside my comfort zone and get back to my lecture-hall roots, I need to push myself to learn all the time. From my perspective, one of the best things a company can provide its employees is the encouragement to constantly push past our boundaries, seeking opportunities to become more informed. A culture that promotes continuing education will undoubtedly lead to a more communicative and productive work environment. When I learn something new the first thing I want to do is share it with my peers, like paying it forward (great movie, by the way). Something everyone can benefit from.
So challenge yourself to think beyond executive MBA’s and SHRM conferences as “continuing education” and embrace web 2.0 for the wealth of knowledge it offers. Encourage your people to get a few blogs via RSS, opt-in for some industry or subject matter expertise newsletters, follow the experts on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook. Whatever it is, it’s about exposing yourself to something new and applying newfound knowledge to solve your daily challenges.