Continuous learning and development can deliver massive returns on your investment of time and effort. The ongoing pursuit of knowledge and experience, focused on targeted outcomes and real world applications, really does bring powerful results.
And the abundance of education formats, learning platforms and communities today lets us learn how and when we want. The hardest part is often simply taking the first step towards becoming a life-long continuous learner.
What is Continuous Learning?
Continuous learning is a process of ongoing development and expansion of personal and professional knowledge and skills. Over the course of one’s life, the need to grow and adapt is essential to surviving and thriving in our ever-changing world.
This learning can take various forms. It can be formal courses, certifications and workshops. It can also be valuable knowledge and insights gained through informal research and casual, unstructured social activities and interactions.
On a personal level, the goal of continuous learning often involves gaining new information or skills, but can also involve broadening perspectives, growing confidence through challenges, developing so-called ‘soft skills’ and even learning how to learn better.
Continuous learning and development also happens in a professional context or within organizations. And the benefits of continuous learning in the workplace is not lost on most successful businesses.
Continuing professional education often takes the form of upskilling or learning new processes and procedures. Management training is another common area of focus within the workplace. Our professional and career growth, however, depends on continually developing new skills and areas of expertise. And we should not depend exclusively on a company or employer for this.
Learning is a continuous process. From our first day of life through to our last we are all continually learning in various ways. The idea is to approach lifelong learning in a mindful, intentional way.
Once you embrace lifelong learning you find that education is its own reward. And when you enjoy continuous learning for its own sake then a return on investment is guaranteed.
New Learning and Personal Development Skills
The dusty textbooks and standardized testing that most of us sat through as kids may have their place. But these are primarily a byproduct of traditional, assembly-line educational systems. When teaching at scale in the primary and secondary levels textbooks and testing may be necessary but they are definitely not what is now considered new learning. And these old methods do little to promote personal development skills and self-learning habits.
Fortunately, as we grow older and seek out more specialized knowledge, there are many more (and more varied) learning options available to us. These new learning platforms and methods make continuous education easier than ever.
They let us learn at our own pace and in our own way. And, by using what we learn as we go (practical applications of our new knowledge), we actually refine our personal development skills.
Investing in Self Education
Educational investment in ourselves can produce powerful short and long-term gains. The value of ongoing education and training can broadly be viewed in three dimensions.
Importance of education in business and career
The obvious point here is that new skills and mastery gained often leads to an increase in salary or income. Learning efforts also can bring less tangible but still valuable rewards. Learning achievements can translate into a greater sense of accomplishment and self-worth.
It also can bring external recognition, for instance, as an ever-improving, self-directed and adaptable person. Knowledge assets often return more than just money, and sometimes pay dividends for a lifetime.
Continuous learning sharpens your ability to learn more.
In addition to growing your skill levels and expertise in different areas or specific ways, being a continuous learner accelerates future learning gains. Like any muscle, the more we exercise our capacity to learn, the better we become.
The ability to process and retain more information better and faster is a super power that the most successful people develop. It’s importance in helping you maximize the limited time and energy you have cannot be underestimated.
Continuous learning enriches your life as a joyful experience in itself.
Some people pursue the opportunities that offer the most promise while others follow their own inner compass. Learning does not have to be a transactional process of acquiring new skills or diplomas to simply get to the next income bracket.
The world is vast and full of wonderful things worth knowing; things that may never grow your income or impress your friends. Once you embrace lifelong learning you find that education is its own reward. And when you enjoy continuous learning for its own sake then a return on investment is guaranteed.
Setting Learning Goals
Before actually setting learning goals and building out a self-education plan, you first need to commit to learning. We can never make real progress in anything without being self-driven and disciplined. An equally important mindset check is about taking ownership of the outcomes. Put another way, we must take responsibility for our own growth and development from start to finish.
The learning process today can incorporate such a broad array of styles, methods and technologies. So, it is also useful to consider what platform or learning paradigm you will likely use. An in-person, traditional college course will be a very different experience than a self-paced, online learning platform or an in-the-field, experiential learning approach. There is no point setting learning goals that cannot be achieved with the learning framework available to you.
Goal setting is an essential part of any endeavor. The steps to identify and set learning goals are fairly simple:
- Check your level of commitment (and be realistic about time and money constraints)
- Review your learning options (and what you can achieve with the platform or method)
- Clarify your motivation (the knowledge gained should enable the actual benefit you seek)
- Set specific learning goals (challenging yet achievable short to medium term targets)
- Take action and continually re-review (self-assess your goals and not just your execution)
- Accept the results and own the outcomes of your efforts
Ultimately, educational goal setting is not as hard as creating a self-learning plan and actually executing on it. But it is no less important.
Cost of Learning, Time vs Money
Having set some meaningful learning goals that align with the benefits or self-improvement we desire, it is important to consider the cost. And learning always has a cost, whether it is money or time (or both).
Deciding if and how much money should be spent on one’s educational journey can depend on various factors. Paying (or paying more) for training may be justified if the topic is very complex or technical in nature. In such cases the reliability and accuracy of the information is worth the price.
For subjects or industry areas that change rapidly it might also make sense to pay for access to an ongoing data source or community that keeps you up to date. Finally, in almost all cases a well-organized course or training platform will speed up your learning process.
A key concept emphasized here at Digital Downshift is that our time value should be considered in everything we do. Given this, we must consider both the price tag and the time cost. But if we can speed up the education process by following the proven paths that others have already taken, the price tag might be small compared to the time (value) we save.
So, when considering the price of paid training and courses consider the total value gained, including the time value saved by leveraging the work and experience of others. Nothing comes for free. You can either invest more of your own time and keep your dollar costs low or you can spend money on educational resources and buy the time that others already invested. Usually, the right approach is a combination of the two.
Of course, the true value of what will be gained in the program, training or educational effort must also be considered. It is worth remembering the adage commonly associated with legendary value investor Warren Buffet: price is what you pay for an asset or investment, while value is what you get from that asset.
Knowledge Assets and Knowledge Capital
The knowledge troves and skill sets gained through continual learning and personal development should be considered as assets, just as we do with traditional investment instruments. Indeed, we speak of “investing” in education so it only seems natural to view knowledge assets as investable assets in their own right. In fact, they are actually dividend-producing assets.
The value generated, such as the resulting growth or increased earning power (benefits and improvements), are the dividends. It’s easy to stop there and enjoy one’s gains. As with traditional dividends, however, the real impact comes from the compounding power of reinvestment.
So, when we leverage our initial successes (the dividends) to achieve second-order benefits we are effectively deploying knowledge capital in search for additional returns.
Here’s an example… You successfully learn a new digital marketing technique. It’s now a knowledge asset in your ‘portfolio’. The positive top-line impact to your online retail business was immediate and significant. This is the dividend or return on your education investment. But then you spoke to some other business owners and they are so impressed with your success that they want to pay you for consulting. Your knowledge has now become knowledge capital that can be deployed and, in this case, generate an additional income stream.
These additional returns may not be monetary. Businesses use wins to promote themselves. Individuals can and should do the same when networking and in interviews. Coders and folks in the tech space, when looking for new work, often discuss cool projects they worked on. Whether it’s an objectively successful result, a challenging event or even a failure that you learned from, many things can be considered knowledge assets.
Share Success and Learn From Others
Hopefully it is obvious but continuous learning and personal development does not mean always going it alone. It is widely understood that networking and collaboration with others can improve career prospects and uncover new business opportunities.
But we should actively seek to leverage the knowledge and experience of others, both would-be teachers and fellow students, and the successful models they’ve used. Regularly interacting with and learning from others is an essential part of the education process.
Participating in group activities and working with others also hones our interpersonal skills. And, in addition to accessing resources or new information we might not have been aware of, being around others helps us stay accountable to our own goals.
But the most important part of a group or community should not be about what you can take from it, but what you can give back. We all have value to offer, if only the encouragement and appreciation we show as knowledge-hungry beginners. In time, however, we will become more knowledgeable and gain experience, and those whom we help and mentor can become powerful allies, partners and maybe even clients in the future.
We can all think of important teachers and influences in our lives; they also had teachers and mentors once. By giving back and helping teach others we are taking part in a virtuous cycle that has spanned millennia and, in the long term, lifts us all up.
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As noted above, the continuous learning process can certainly lead to new earning power and business opportunities, as well as being a natural and enjoyable part of life. Over time, the projects, results and achievements that grow out of our learning become knowledge assets that are stores of value and can pay dividends just like traditional investable assets.
But the relationships you establish along the road of learning and mastering a new discipline can often be the most rewarding part of your continuous learning and personal development journey. Enjoy the trip!