Formal learning is where you enrol in a course of studies run by an external party. I have found this type of learning to be most effective for subjects that benefit from interaction with and feedback from others. Examples include languages, facilitation skills and interviewing skills.
Another advantage of formal learning is the attainment of some form of accreditation. If you work in a field where accreditation is important, such as accounting or psychotherapy, you probably have little choice but to undertake formal learning.
Formal learning also commits you to the course. Once enrolled, I find myself going to class even on days when I feel less inclined to do so.
Self-directed learning is less expensive and works best for objective subjects, where it is easy to know whether you have done something correctly or not. One example is computer programming. If you have not learnt something correctly, your program simply won’t work!
Over the years, I have successfully taught myself computer programming. I started off with a Dummies book which was great for quickly getting me into the swing of things and gave me plenty of positive reinforcement. Once I completed these, I then moved straight into the heavy duty reference books like those from O’Reilly.
If you are busy, it can be hard to set aside time to learn. Assuming you can run your life with your diary, you can set aside and diarise uninterrupted time for learning.
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How to decide what type of learning is best for you
Review what you already know. Include formal qualifications, self-taught skills and life experiences. Use these as the foundation to build your own professional development plan. If you have a five year plan for your career, you can also use this in conjunction with developing your professional development plan.
For example if you are a mother returning to work, you may have an accounting degree as your core qualification, self-taught web blogging skills and lots of experience managing a complex schedule.
In this scenario, your professional development plan could include completing a project management course to consolidate your task management skills, self-learning the latest Excel tricks, self-learning writing skills, and possibly a longer term plan to get into a CA or CPA course.
You can then use this combination of learning to pursue your new career as an online remote book keeper whose key differentiation is in how you explain accounting principles in a clear and entertaining way on your blog.
If I were advising the lady in the example above, I’d encourage her to consider including one of each of the following approaches when creating her professional development plan. Here’s what I’d say:
Expand your core qualifications
If you have an existing accounting degree, acquiring a CA or CPA certification would be building on your core qualification. This type of professional development is usually the most obvious and easiest to work out.
Supplement your core qualifications
Learning to use Excel like a pro would be supplementing your accounting qualification. You may need to put your creativity hat on to start seeing the possibilities.
Expand your horizons
Look further a field from your core qualifications and explore the infinite possibilities for stretching your horizons. You will need your creativity hat on for this one, too. If you are interested in people, learning a new language would be expanding your horizons. A multilingual accountant would have more opportunities than a monolingual one. A multilingual accountant who also understands the seasonal ski instruction industry could find an interesting and lucrative niche globally!
At the end of the day, despite its dry name, having a professional development plan will enrich you as a person. Solopreneurs can fall into the trap of doing the same thing over and over again, especially if you have a process that works.
Professional development is the perfect excuse to get out of your comfort zone and learn something different. Do you have a professional development plan in place? Post a comment and let us know what has worked for you.