THERE’S nothing that can deflate a person more than being stuck in a rut. As the late American educator and keynote speaker Stephen Covey advised, you’ve got to “sharpen the saw”.
Chase after new or updated knowledge. Perfect the skills you already have. Apply yourself to tasks you haven’t tried before.
And this is why Continuous Professional Education (CPE) is a must. CPE is a requirement in the renewal of professional licenses, but there is more than one reason to pursue higher learning.
For starters, CPE boosts your confidence and self-worth.
More so, CPE would help you remain relevant come the time your profession ditches old ways of doing things.
But CPE courses can be expensive. Quality workshops can cost you an arm and a leg, and you sometimes wonder if they are worth it.
And who has time for an MA or a PhD? But for the determined and the resourceful, cost-free CPE is doable.
Consider the following options:
Enrolment in MOOCs
“MOOCs” stands for Massive Open Online Courses.
These are interactive online courses meant to be delivered to a large number of students at a time. Examples of providers of MOOCs are Coursera, EdX and Udacity.
MOOCs are great value for no cost at all. They are free: you only need an Internet connection to access them, although some providers charge a minimal fee for the verification of student identity or more advanced subjects.
But more importantly, the courses are designed by top universities all over the world, so you get above par curriculum. There are MOOCs for all professions, from business to marketing to computer programming.
Membership in professional organisations
Professional organisations take care of their own, which is why it pays to stay active in them.
More often than not, seniors in the organisation create opportunities to pass on their learning, either through affordable seminar-workshops or free journals and newsletters.
You can also approach the pillars of your organisation for regular mentoring, maybe over coffee and doughnuts. If you have extra time, you can volunteer to assist in events or committees so that you can get new ideas for free.
Visits to the library
Even at this age when paper and ink books are considered obsolete, libraries still hold gems for those seriously interested in improving their craft.
You can download e-books, of course, but most of the quality ones are for a price.
Libraries, on the other hand, remain free.
You can even ask your local librarian to purchase a book you are particularly interested in, as many libraries do take their patrons’ needs into account.
And if subscriptions to academic journals are too pricey to consider, libraries with a decent budget will help you log on to journal publishers without you needing to spend a cent.
Taking on side projects
Practice is one of the best ways of learning, especially if your field of work relies less on theory and more on application.
If you want to improve your skills, it wouldn’t hurt to take on paid or free projects on the side.
If you can do these projects with a team of fellow professionals, so much the better, as you also learn by exposure to different working styles or interacting with younger people.
Are you a programmer bored with troubleshooting the same system over and over again?
Look for crowd-sourcing sites to see if anyone’s interested in designing Open Source software.
Feel like your marketing skills are rusty? Volunteer to create a campaign for your local Red Cross.
If you have time, you may even take part-time work in a company advocating innovative strategies.
Get a grant or a scholarship
You can still pursue advanced studies for free by trying out for grants or scholarships.
Most universities have options for the cash-strapped; for instance, there are those that offer free graduate courses in exchange for man-hours as a teaching assistant.
If your research slant is particularly interesting, academic institutions might get an incentive for taking you in.
Last but not least, you might even be able to get a government grant for your studies, sometimes overseas, in exchange for being a state employee for a few years.
A combination of these strategies will ensure that you get the continuing professional education you need.