Recently I signed up for a pair of Coursera courses in topics in which I have little background, electrical engineering and robotics. When I shared this with my wife, she didn't so much as bat an eye as it has become commonplace for me to go off on educational tangents every few months. Through chatting with her I realized that not only do I never seem to stop learning, but that I'm a bit odd for doing so. There is something that I find very pleasant in exploring new topics of interest and gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world around me. I thought I'd take a bit of a respite from my normal types of blogs and share some of my tips and insights for continued self-learning for those with an insatiably inquisitive mindset
Benefits & General Thoughts
There is a great deal of research that points towards continued learning and education as being beneficial to your health. Continued education has been shown to stave off Alzheimer's disease, depression, and can lead to a happier life. There is a program in my wife's home country of Slovakia whereby once you turn a certain age, near retirement, you gain access to courses and educational programs at your local state university for free. My mother in law has enrolled in a number of these courses despite being in her late 50's and has found them enthralling. You are never too old to learn something new, and you might find that it is not only good for your health but your social life as well.
Additionally, we live in an age whereby we cannot enjoy our parent's job security. New industries are being formed regularly and long-standing ones are contracting or disappearing entirely. There was a time when working for a corporation such as Kodak, Borders Books, Blockbuster Video meant job security for a lifetime. Now we live in a society whereby your CV and job skills needs to change with the adoption of new technologies. This means that as doctors had to in the past, now those in a variety of technical and non-technical fields are finding a need to continue to learn, adapt and develop.
We are extremely fortunate to live in a time when there are seemingly endless online resources for learning. Of these, I tend to break them down into two categories, lifestyle and university. Lifestyle would be learning sources such as Udemy where the majority of courses are about day-to-day topics ranging from photography to yoga and music. It is a great resource point (as can be YouTube channels such as Khan Academy) for learning about a new hobby. As for university style learning, a number of universities now offer full courses for free (or a small fee if you want a certificate) online. These tend to be what I study the most and they range from business topics, to STEM, and the humanities. I personally tend to take courses on Coursera due to their large catalogues of courses, but I have also heard good things about edX and Future Learn.
I have found two keys towards completing courses in spite of a busy schedule. The first is to not bite off more than you can chew. I cannot tell you how many times I've gone to Coursera and seen 4-5 courses starting soon which I've found interesting and have registered for them all, only to really complete parts of 1-2 of them. I've found that if I only allow myself to register for a maximum of 2 courses at a time that my completion and retention rates go up dramatically. The second key to success I've found will likely sound just as obvious, start with a foundation. Quite often I'll register for a course based upon interest such as advanced 3D printing without having a solid foundation for the topic. I did this repeatedly during my undergraduate studies as well and you would think by this time I would have learned. Not only will you learn and retain much more if you have a foundation, but the likelihood of completion goes up dramatically.
Speaking of universities, if you are an alumnus and live close to where you went to school it is worth getting in touch with your old school and speaking to them about continuing education options for alumni. Most universities have free or discounted courses for alumni, and some have courses made specifically for alums. If you did not attend university or live too far away, then many schools also have educational sessions, lectures and talks which are open to the public. For example, we currently live near the University of Toronto, from which the business school, Rotman, hosts a number of talks open to the public.
Mentioned above are only a few examples of educational opportunities, I haven't even touched upon libraries, state educational programs, and picking up a good book. There are free or low-cost opportunities to learn all around us and we live in an age whereby access to education has never been so easy. As such I ask, what is holding you back from pursuing your interests and hobbies further?