Educational institutions, companies and organizations often create online learning portals to act as entryways into learning resources and opportunities for their students or employees. Search for “learning portal” using your favorite search engine to see some examples. You can create your own learning portal using just your browser.
No matter what type of browser you use, they all share the common feature of allowing you to bookmark a web page and to categorize those bookmarks. You can leverage this capability to create your own learning and reference portal.
Online learning destinations tend to fall into a few general categories. By categorizing your bookmarked web pages under appropriate category names, you can emulate the links you would find in a typical learning portal, and this one will be tailored to your specific needs.
The trick is to decide upon the right categories. Here are some suggestions, but you should use these only as a starting point. Your learning portal should be individualized and relevant to what you want to learn, how you learn, and your areas of interest.
You might create these categories under a single browser category of My Learning Portal.
- General Reference
- Professional Organizations
Within each of these categories you might break it down into sub-categories related to specific subject areas. One alternative categorization strategy could be to use subject matter and topic categories as the first level of categorization rather than these higher level categories. Do what works for you. Ultimately, how you organize your links is up to you. Only you know best what organization makes sense.
Keep your links and their categorization current. Over time it’s easy to get lazy about organizing your bookmarked pages and that will significantly reduce the usefulness of your learning portal. If well maintained, your personalized learning portal can serve as your pathway to ongoing learning for the rest of your life.
Here’s a great site that learning guru Marcia Conner suggested to me as inspiration regarding the power of a well-organized link collection. Chuck Green’s field of expertise is specifically design, but you can clearly see how such a link collection could prove valuable for a self-educator.
These days a popular term has emerged in learning circles – social learning. It’s not an entirely new term. Discussion about social learning has roots going back as early as the late 1800’s. In recent times it has become somewhat synonymous with social media learning. While learning theorists will rightfully disagree that the two terms mean the same thing, common usage has blurred the meanings and the two are now often used interchangeably.
Social learning is currently a hot topic in the corporate world. Many organizations are adopting social learning practices that focus on employees often learning best from peers and internal subject-matter experts. Collaborative and multi-faceted learning is the key to social learning. Mechanisms such as communities of practice, wikis, blogs, discussion groups and expert directories are being used to bring about more efficient and useful learning in the workplace.
Outside of the workplace, social learning takes place in similar ways with a contemporary focus on social media as the primary vehicle to loosely organize and facilitate this type of learning. Again, the focus is on learning from others in an informal manner.
Whether taking place in the workplace or in other aspects of our lives, social learning is a concept that will only grow over time as we network further with each other and in more robust and intricate ways. Technology will continue to facilitate social learning to the point where I believe it will significantly challenge, head-to-head, traditional classroom approaches to learning. A tipping point is approaching at which time social learning will be considered a viable alternative to classroom-based education. I look forward to that day.
However, when talking about social learning, it’s important to remember that social learning is really a subset of the larger topic of self-education. Informal learning, self-directed learning, social learning and social media learning are all so closely related to each other that we must continue to think of them within the context of the broader topic of self-education.
I believe self-education is the future cornerstone of all education. In truth, it always has been, but the dominance of formal education in the community consciousness has been so overwhelming that it’s drowned out any reasonable discussion of self-education until fairly recently. I hope the rise of social learning’s importance will help to usher in a new era of more useful, cost-effective and personally-relevant learning gained primarily through self-education.
We all make mistakes. Nothing we do is perfect. That’s how life is supposed to be. If we ever achieved perfection in all aspects of life we’d be very unhappy. Much of our joy in life, whether we realize it or not, comes from learning, from improving, from fine tuning this wonderful journey we’re all on.
Some folks don’t get to experience such joy because they don’t accept feedback very well. Walls go up the moment they receive any type of criticism, even when it’s delivered with the best of intentions. Sometimes people take feedback badly even when they have specifically asked for the feedback.
I’ve observed that those who learn best are those who are the most open to correction and advice. In fact, I believe that the ability to easily assimilate feedback from others is one of the key learning skills necessary to learn optimally. If someone is closed to feedback, their learning will suffer significantly.
So as you live your life, consider making a conscious effort to welcome feedback with open arms. You’ll learn more and you’ll learn better.
Sometimes it only takes a few words with some great accompanying visuals to get a message across extremely well. Here is just such a case that asks quite appropriately exactly what is going on with America’s increasingly dysfunctional higher education system.
Based on recent history, my country does not really respect education. Outrageous student debt. Often predatory for-profit schools motivated more by profit than the actual education. Not nearly enough of our nation’s budget dedicated to quality education for all. So I agree with the post, WTF is wrong with my country. We can do better.
Take a look Emily Thomas’ great blog post titled 100 Best Self-Education Sites for Switching Careers. What a tremendous self-education resource.
This is one of those pages I recommend all self-educators bookmark and reference regularly.
I recently finished reading Kio Stark’s book, Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything. As someone who is deeply interested in self-education and anything having to do with people being empowered to learn and grow outside of the formal education system, I recommend the book. Stark is a smart woman who defines herself as a “learning activist,” among other things, and she also served as President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer for the Obama for America campaign during the 2012 election.
Stark begins from the standpoint of acknowledging that the formal school system as we know it, at all levels, is broken. Amid the current debates taking place about the true value of a college education and the dramatically rising costs of higher education that’s fostering the student debt crisis, Stark does not propose reform, but rather a radical proposal for transforming learning itself with traditional school one among many options rather than the only option.
The book is based largely on Stark’s own personal research (which I would best describe as ethnographic research) in which she discovered four facts garnered from her interviews that are shared by almost every successful form of learning outside of school:
- It isn’t done alone.
- For many professions, credentials aren’t necessary, and the processes for getting credentials are changing.
- The most effective, satisfying learning is learning that is more likely to happen outside of school.
- People who are happiest with their learning process and most effective at learning new things – in any educational environment – are people who are learning for the right reasons and who reflect on their own way of learning to figure out which processes and methods work best for them.
Stark presents the book in three sections. The first section (about 15% of the book) is her presentation of how we actually learn best and her ideas on how to go about doing that. The second and much larger section (about 60% of the book) is a series of personal stories from people who have leveraged those same approaches to learning to empower their lives and careers. The final section (about 25% of the book) offers the reader some great advice, information and resources to help the reader be an independent learner. All sections are quite valuable and I recommend you read them all. If you choose to read only part of the book, read the first and last sections since it presents all of the ideas on how to best learn as reflected in the personal stories. However, the personal stories are powerful. I think we often learn best by hearing other people’s stories and I think the book holds together as a single offering that should be consumed in its entirety by a reader.
This book is now on my self-education reading recommendation list. It’s a valuable contribution to the growing body of work that puts forth the idea that many of us learn best outside of the formal educational process.
A while back I decided to give up belonging to a gym and exercising with weights. Due to my rather hectic schedule I wasn’t getting to the gym very often, and after years of lifting weights it just wasn’t resonating with me anymore. The result was that I ended up abandoning exercise for way too long, but now I’m back on a regular exercise regimen.
When I returned to exercising I focused much more on bodyweight exercises which syncs much better with my gymnastics, dance, aerobics and yoga background. But there are times I like to have some other weight resistance exercises thrown into the mix. When I do, I now use elastic resistance bands instead of traditional weights, specifically Bodylastics Resistance Bands. They are incredibly well made and it’s really easy and quick to change the amount of weight resistance you want by simply clicking into place a variety of elastic band combinations.
If you’re looking for a quality set of resistance bands, I highly recommend these.
I was reading an article in a past issue of The New York Times about a past race for Governor of California, but it was one particular part of that article that reminded me of the importance of adaptation to learning and self-education.
Gavin Newson, the then current Mayor of San Francisco, was running as a candidate for Governor of California. Part of the article mentions Newsom’s own particular style of self-education that he’s developed over many years. According to the article, Newson dealt with severe dyslexia as a child and this resulted in him needing to constantly re-read, underline, and otherwise markup what he’s read in order to identify the important points. He then has someone type up what he’s underlined to produce an abbreviated set of notes that he studies and refers to, a sort of CliffNotes.
The most important take away from this is that Newson cleverly and appropriately “adapted” his learning style to accommodate his particular situation. It is only by adapting that any of us can optimally learn. No two of us on Earth learn best in exactly the same way. We’re unique individuals and our approaches to self-education should be unique and individualistic in any ways that produce better learning. In the article, when Newson is quoted about learning, he said we adapt “in ways that can nurture creative solutions.” I love that quote. Creative solutions are what self-education is all about. How do we each learn best? What strategies can each of us use to best educate ourselves? To use an overused term, we all need to “think outside the box” to create solutions that help us learn best.
We can all learn from Gavin Newson’s example of adaptation. I encourage you to do the same.
If anyone reading this has their own particular unique creative learning solutions, I’d love to hear about them.
A tool that many people use when pursuing self-education, or as they often call it in the business world, informal learning, is the learning contract. Learning contracts are documents you can use on your own or that can be used in business environments to guide employees in their self-directed education.
Learning contracts can take many forms, but the typical learning contract identifies the following:
- Specific learning objectives. In other words, what is it you want to learn? This might seem like something so obvious as to not require documenting, but it’s not always so obvious. Subject matter topics often have various sub-topics that are entire areas of learning and study unto themselves. So stating clearly here what you want to learn focuses you best on your learning objective.
- Reasons why you want to accomplish the learning objective. Again, this might seem obvious, but giving this some thought is a good idea. Why? Because just identifying something to learn isn’t enough. If you don’t identify why you want to learn it, you won’t have any passion behind the learning process and some passion about something is required if the learning is going to be rewarding and the knowledge or skill truly useful.
- Resources you can use to accomplish the learning objective. Some of the many types of resources are websites, books, magazines, professional journals and newsletters, co-workers, managers, elearning, classroom-based learning, mentors, subject matter experts you can interview, and anything else you can think of that might prove useful.
- Target dates and milestones. Do you have a specific date by which you’d like to have accomplished the learning objective? If so, do you have interim milestone dates along the way you’d like to document in order to keep your learning on track? List what you want to learn by what date. If this is a personal learning project without any specific deadline date attached to it, you could ignore this information. However, even for personal learning projects it can be useful to create dates by which you’d like to accomplish learning to keep you on track.
- Documentation of the learning accomplished. In what way will you demonstrate that you’ve accomplished the learning objective? Creating some sort of “proof” of your learning serves multiple purposes. First, by creating such documentation you’ll feel more confident that you have learned what you set out to learn. Second, when presented to potential employers, perhaps as part of an entire education and experience portfolio, such documentation will impress hiring managers and tell them you’re serious about your ongoing education. Third, if you ever decide to enter into formal higher education schooling, many colleges and universities offer credit for previous life experience and knowledge and this part of the learning contract documentation will provide the source material required by those institutions.
So do you have something identified that you’d like to learn? Go ahead and create a learning contract for yourself. Just open up a word processor and start typing. The form the contract itself takes isn’t important. All that’s important is that it serves the purpose for which it’s intended.
Are you the owner or manager in a business or corporate department? Do you have specific knowledge or skills you’d like to see your employees learn? Consider implementing the use of learning contracts as part of your company’s regular, ongoing employee development.
If you have used a learning contract and have more insight into their use based on your experience, I’d love to hear about it.
A while back I stumbled upon an amazing website, a website I can honestly and without doubt say is my absolute favorite website, ever. The site is TED (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design). Begun in 1984, TED is an annual conference, held in Long Beach, California, that initially brought together people from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design.
Currently, the scope of TED has become much broader and more diverse and now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers, doers and visionaries from all walks of life.
So what do they do at a TED conference? Each attendee is challenged to give the talk of their lives on their topic of choice in 18 minutes or less. The TED site does us the favor – no, the honor – of capturing these brilliant 18-minute gems and presenting them to anyone with a curious and open mind.
Visit the site. Poke around. Watch and listen to a few of the talks. You will be fascinated, inspired, awed, informed and challenged. You won’t regret a moment. And hopefully you’ll get hooked on this site like I am. Whenever I want to elevate 18 minutes of my day to 18 minutes extremely well spent, I visit TED.
One of my favorite talks is by creativity evangelist Sir Ken Robinson that challenges the way we’re educating our children. With views that mirror my own, Ken Robinson makes a strong case for a radical rethink of education and the educational process. His wisdom should influence our outlook on self education as well.
I spend many happy hours on TED. Please join me. Here is Sir Ken Robinson’s talk. Enjoy.