By Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD
Continuing education keeps professionals sharp and relevant in their respective fields. Even the most seasoned professionals can benefit from continuing education: it provides the opportunity to make new connections, gain new perspectives, stay on top of trends, set an example by taking initiative for growth, and deepen knowledge and expertise.
While the classroom may be the most obvious and traditional setting for continuing education, there are non-traditional pathways as well. Combined, traditional and non-traditional settings offer professionals nearly limitless ways to tailor their continuing education endeavors. Consider the following range of non-traditional education options.
Attend Professional Conferences
I recently attended, and presented at, a conference for career services professionals. It was a wonderful experience! Not only did I have the opportunity to meet people who I had only emailed or spoken to previously, but I also made new connections and sharpened my skills. Even as I presented on advanced interview techniques, I learned from other professionals about their techniques for teaching interview preparation. One person who asked me a question during the discussion portion of my session is now a trusted colleague. We share ideas, questions, and new insights, and are go-to resources for each other.
Joining organizations relevant to your area of professional specialty and/or your community keeps you abreast of the latest trends, findings, issues, and concerns. You can keep your engagement to the bare minimum by only reading regular communications from the organizations, such as newsletters or magazines, or you can engage more substantially by attending events, volunteering periodically, or even serving on a committee. Each of these activities lends themselves to learning.
Building relationships with people who are in the same line of work as you, or in complementary fields, inevitably leads to continuing education. In this way, speaking with others about relevant topics can prove to be informative and mutually beneficial. Networking can occur in formal sessions or simply by inviting a colleague or new connection to lunch. Just a sampling of ways to expand your network includes leveraging LinkedIn, attending community events, and engaging in a mentoring relationship.
A virtually effortless way to engage in continuing education is to read. Read books and articles on topics that interest you and in which you want to grow your knowledge. This could be something specific to your field or industry, or something broader like leadership development. We live in an age where knowledge is literally at our fingertips—just a click or tap away—so it is possible to learn about any given topic.
Self-studying can also take the form of enrolling in online professional development courses or webinars. Whether their duration occurs over a period of months, weeks, or just an hour (which is common for webinars), the choices are nearly endless. To find these opportunities, examine the offerings from your workplace, organizations you are a member of, and massive open online courses (or MOOCs) through Coursera.
Earn an Advanced Degree Online
If you want to commit to a particular area of interest, consider enrolling in an online advanced degree program. Before doing so, conduct careful research to gather information about the program and potential opportunities for fee reductions or tuition support. And, of course, make sure any substantial commitment, such as a degree program, will benefit your long-term career goals.
Through the many varied options for continuing education that are beyond the traditional classroom setting, every person can truly tailor the direction of their professional development and education.
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