Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Improving Your Skills, Part 3

In two previous blog postings, I wrote about getting ahead in your career through informal learning. This kind of learning is a frequent method for advancing a career, and so I cover it in some detail in my new book, 2011 Career Plan. But, in the same book, I also discuss formal coursework. This does not always have to mean earning a college or graduate degree. It can consist of a single course.

About 15 years ago, I was fortunate to get my employer to pay for me to be trained in Microsoft Access. I had three days of training in the basics and, later, two days covering intermediate topics. What I learned in these two courses I now use on the job virtually every day.

Here are some of the features of a formal class or program that differentiate it from informal learning:
  • The learning goals are clearly spelled out.
  • The instructor (whether it’s a human, a computer program, or a booklet) has a reputation for knowing the subject and being able to teach it.
  • There’s some way to measure how much you learn.
  • When you’re finished, you get some kind of recognition for what you’ve learned—for example, a piece of paper or a mention on your performance appraisal.
The last bulleted item is what makes this form of learning especially valuable to you.

However, some courses are a better choice for your career than others. Following is a checklist that I developed for the 2011 Career Plan to help you assemble the facts about a course or workshop and decide whether or not it’s a good choice.

Facts to Know Before Signing Up for a Course or Workshop

__ The expected learning outcomes of the course are clear to me.
__ The learning outcomes match the skill needs of a current or potential employer.
__ The learning outcomes contribute to a skill I want to develop.
__ The learning outcomes do not repeat what I already know.
__ The course has no prerequisites I can’t meet.
__ I have evidence that the course provider can teach me successfully. (Examples: reputation of provider; testimonial of a course completer; demonstrated skill of a course completer; recommendation by my employer.)
__ I will learn more or better than I could by teaching myself instead.
__ I will be able to show evidence of how the course has improved my skills. (Examples: certificate of completion; documentation of a completed project.)
__ The course is offered at a time convenient for me.
__ The course is offered at a place convenient for me.
__ I can afford the cost of the course (perhaps by getting my employer to pay).

Note that you don’t have to check off every statement, but the more you agree with, the better. If several of the statements are not checked, maybe this course is not a good move for your career.

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