You're never done learning. It may sound like a disheartening fact, but it can be a powerful mantra. Here are a few simple ways to integrate lifelong learning into your routine. With these habits in place, you really can learn something new every day!
L-I-Y: Learn it yourself
You don't have to sign up for continuing education courses or a new degree program to access new ideas and concepts. Some of the best learning is self-directed, especially as an established professional. Over time, the evolution of our daily work exposes areas where we might need to brush up on a skill or investigate a new trend. Self-directed learning is a manageable way to stay on top of developments in your field, expand your knowledge in other areas, or even find inspiration for your creative and professional work.
It's a big ol' world wide web, so find ways to make it manageable. Choose a handful of credible, quality, comprehensive blogs that you check often for news and information. You're more likely to retain what you learn if you can connect the information to a gap in your own knowledge, so don't feel like you have to read every tip, list, trick or tutorial out there. In fact, stay away from preachy tutorial blogs altogether. The best blogs feature conceptual, theoretical articles from multiple contributors.
Here are some of our favourites at ECR:
- For web design and development: Smashing Magazine
Sample blog post title:"My favourite programming mistakes"
- For writing, communication and social media: Ragan.com
Sample blog post title: "Craft a killer headline for Twitter"
- For architecture and visual inspiration: Dezeen
Sample blog post title: "Alarming cantilevers"
- For interior design enthusiasts: FresHome
Sample blog post title: "Spacious apartment featuring a basketball court"
- For graphic design, web design and blog culture: InspiredM
Sample blog post title: "How to organize web development projects like a pro"
- For professional photography: New York Times Lens
Sample blog post title: "Empathetic portraits of a segregated nation"
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the expanse of news stories, Tweets and posts, there are several websites that make it their mission to help you sort through the reams of information available online. Try Readability, Flipboard, strawberryj.am, delicious, Float or Google Reader.
Moderate your online browsing by budgeting and focusing your time. Limit yourself to an hour, 30 minutes, or even just a quick 10-minute break each day to skim your favourite sites and pick out stories that interest you. You'll feel in touch with what's happening out in the world and in control of what's happening at your desk.
Step away from the computer and take a trip back in time to the bookstore. Lifelong learning doesn't always have to be about staying on top of endless waves of new knowledge. Never forget the value of a good used bookstore. You can find classic conceptual works, amazing graphic and fine arts books and maybe even an unintentionally inspiring old novel – all at a discount! There are interesting lessons to be learned from old, or even outdated, books (and maybe you slept through one or two of them when you were actually in school). In this rapidly-changing world in which we live, it's important to take time to meditate on the past.
Learning Nicely With Others
You can only learn so much from blogs and books. Learning isn't just about ingesting information; the best part of learning is interacting. Whether it's asking questions, engaging in debate, listening to advice or offering your own expertise, engaging with others is a key component to lifelong learning.
Bonjour, mes amis
If you want to know more about something, chances are you have a friend who can teach you. Take advantage of the array of skills and knowledge in your network of friends and don't limit yourself to learning skills pertinent to your field. Maybe you have a friend who can speak another language, or is knowledgeable in etiquette, or perhaps excels at a particular sport. You never know when it might come in handy to know how to say "where's the bathroom" in French, or which fork is for dessert, or how to play golf. And don't forget to share your unique expertise with your friends in return.
For new graduates in particular, it's important to find ways to connect with a professional community. Whether it's through an association, collective, guild or group, you'll benefit from exposure to others in your chosen field - fellow newbies and seasoned pros alike. Many organizations offer a full schedule of social events and professional development programming. If mixers and forced social interaction isn't your bag, then go online. Engage with colleagues on professional associations' online forums in your specialization. You can subscribe to the organization's magazine or e-newsletter for a regular dose of industry news and information.
These professional organizations are great examples of vibrant networks you can join:
- AIGA | the professional association for design
- Society of Graphic Designers of Canada
- International Digital Media and Arts Association
- The Association of Illustrators
- Editorial Freelancers Association
- International Association of Business Communicators
- International Interior Design Association
- American Institute of Architects
- Architecture Canada | Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
However you choose to engage in a professional community, it's an indispensable resource for lifelong learning.
The only impression you might have of your alumni association is that they keep asking for your money, but these associations are an excellent resource. Most alumni associations have ongoing programming for grads, from social and networking events to lecture series. Getting involved with your alumni association is a learning opportunity that might not immediately spring to mind, but it can be an excellent way to connect with colleagues in your field, learn about new developments or even share your own expertise as a guest speaker.
Learn lifelong and prosper
Lifelong learning is about more than just staying in the know. If you engage in active learning throughout your life, you are giving your brain a daily work-out - exercising your memory, critical thinking and creativity. And just like an active lifestyle, active learning gives you a sense of control over your life and makes you feel healthy and happy.
And it's fun. (I promise.)