Formal education is just the start of your learning journey. In order to stay relevant in an ever-changing world, you need to be intentional about lifelong learning. This requires having a fundamental curiosity or appetite for learning to keep developing in your professional and personal life. You must be a self-directed learner.
Growth takes practice and discipline. It requires setting goals and holding yourself accountable by managing your time. One great way to further your professional and personal growth is by attending graduate school or enrolling in certificate programs. At Southeastern University (SEU), we offer graduate degrees in a variety of fields, from nursing and social work to leadership and professional counseling.
But before you dive into more education (informal or formal), you need to decide what areas you want to see developed. Making clear goals for yourself will help you determine where you need to grow, motivate you to develop your skills and encourage the learning process.
1. Take free classes online.
Learn a new skill or pursue a passion by taking online courses at a college or university at no cost. Universities like Harvard offer free courses for you to explore your interests. Some of the courses they provide include new ideas for nonprofit leaders, resilient leadership, negotiating a salary and introduction to computer science.
Another platform to check out is edX, which offers free online classes on a wide range of subjects from leading universities (think MIT, Berkeley, Boston University, etc.). These classes can sharpen your knowledge in your current career or help you dabble in something you may be interested in pursuing in the future without worrying about extra costs.
2. Pursue a professional certificate.
If you are looking to gain a competitive edge in the job market or in your current position, you may want to consider pursuing a certificate program. A major benefit to a certificate is it is not as costly and doesn’t take as much time to complete as an advanced degree. By pursuing a certificate in your chosen field, you can also potentially receive a salary increase and promotion.
Many universities offer a variety of certification programs that typically only take a couple of months to complete. At Southeastern, we offer a wide range of certificates, including human services administration, organizational leadership and ministry certificates. Some companies, like Google, have certification programs you can complete online at your own pace. And, they claim their certificates are stepping stones to career advancement. According to Google, 75% of program graduates report an improvement in their career within six months of certificate completion.
3. Participate in professional development.
While the company you plan to work for may offer professional development opportunities, you should also try to find something outside of work to hone your skills. For students or graduates still looking for a job, being a part of a professional network could help you in your pursuits.
Look to join a networking group, attend a conference in your field or participate in a workshop. The benefit of being around other professionals in your field is that you can glean from their years of experience, network and possibly find new job opportunities. At these events, you will be introduced to new methods and industry standards that you can implement into your work life. Many professionals will share what they have learned – the good and the bad. These types of settings can be the perfect place to find a mentor for your career.
4. Use readily available resources.
If you aren’t prepared to make a big commitment by taking a class or joining a professional networking group, then look for simple ways to expand your knowledge. In this digital age, there are many readily available resources for you, and most of them won’t cost you anything.
Watch tutorials on subjects that interest you. Continue to learn about your chosen field by reading articles online. In your daily commute, listen to a variety of podcasts. Consider renting books at your local library or reading books on your Kindle app. There are numerous resources that you can look into to continue to develop in your professional and personal life.
As you begin to cultivate a growth mindset, ask yourself: “what am I learning?” Before you pursue an educational opportunity, you need to determine if it will help you or distract you from accomplishing your personal and professional goals. This will help you to be a good steward of your time and prioritize what matters in your life. Learning doesn’t just happen; you have to be intentional in what you are learning and how you are pursuing it.