Post-secondary education has never been more accessible to the average person. We may have a long ways to go in terms of making courses more accessible for learners and reducing the financial barriers that keep students from being successful in school, but it is nevertheless an undeniable fact that there are more people who have been to post-secondary schooling than the entire history of people attending higher learning.
One issue with the proliferation of access is that it’s getting harder to stand-out in the workforce. With so many people carrying credentials, the golden ticket that a diploma or degree used to confer has lost some of its value. Your choices are to either go to industries where they are starving for workers (if you are looking for a solid career with good prospects, you should become a welder NOW), or figure out a way to become a better problem-solver to stand out amongst the crowd.
Another issue that complicates matters is that industry and technology is changing at such a rapid rate that you can no longer rest on your laurels that your program of study will adequately prepare you for work in your industry. The techniques, technologies, and skills you learn in your first year may be obsolete by the end of your final year.
Therefore, it’s important to develop your ability to self-educate. Knowing where you can find free or cheap resources can be a huge advantage when developing yourself in your career. Here are some of the resources I use to teach myself.
Top Spot: your Public Library
In my humble opinion, the public library is one of the greatest inventions of all time. Whether you are taking classes they offer, using resources in their catalog, or availing yourself of the free access to materials like online journals and portals, there is almost no limit to the access your library card can provide. When my HVAC system went on the fritz, I was able to check out an HVAC manual to help me learn just what the heck an HVAC system does so that I could understand what repairs were needed, and how to better care for the system in the future.
YouTube changed the game when it comes to sharing knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, books are great (the necessary precursor to the greatest invention of all time; see: public library entry), but unless your book has incredibly detailed diagrams, the video format will always be the superior resource for teaching hands-on skills. When I had to fix my roof, I turned to videos to learn how to remove individual shingles and replace them myself.
Coursera is all the benefits of attending lectures without the associated costs. Granted, if you want formal recognition of completing Coursera courses, you’ll need to pay for the access. However, nearly every Coursera course has the option for you to audit the course for free, which gives you access to the lecture content and some of the supplementary material.
Reddit (and other specialty discussion forums)
I suppose I should have used “Google” as the category here since I often will search for solutions through Google’s indexed results. However, dedicated online communities are some of the best resources to learn from. They often post comprehensive resources and how-to manuals, and are usually great about providing solutions when you are stuck on specific problems. If you can find a good community that isn’t locked behind a paywall, you can lose yourself for hours in it’s wealth of information.
While not a free resource, this is something that my employer has provided to its employees at no cost. You should check to see if your employer offers any services for employees to self-develop because you might be missing out on a ton of non-financial benefits. Lynda is a great resource for comprehensive courses on a wide variety of tech and business topics. It’s a bit restrictive if you are looking for non-business courses, but it’s worth checking out for learning the basics you’ll need to navigate your early career development.
Another paid service, I find Udemy great for high tech courses where I want to develop specific skills, such as in Python or in using Adobe software. I wait for courses to go on sale, and I snap up courses up to 90% off their full price.
My final suggestion is to tap your friends to see if anyone can help you learn new skills. Obviously, you don’t want to exploit your friends – you should pay for their services where appropriate. However, in some cases your friends can be great resources to tackle projects. Not only do you get to leverage their unique skills or experience, but you also get quality time together. My entire podcast and music run for Woot Suit Riot has been some of the most formative experiences I’ve had, all because I was making stuff with friends.
All of this is framed as advice to help you in your career, however the truth is that you should be seeking to educate yourself for any project your’re interested in, regardless of whether you can get paid for the skills or not. I took painting classes earlier this year at my local art store because I wanted to learn how to paint. This isn’t a skillset that directly will get me promoted, but it rounds me out and allows me to explore my creative side.
The point of self-education or self-development is for you to become more of the person you want to be. It’s often hard work, but the experiences are well-worth the effort.