Upgrading Your Skills

This article was originally posted on the BetterProjects.net blog on March 1, 2010.

One of the things that I really love about most technology is how relatively easy it is to upgrade it. A little searching online for the correct part, loosening a few screws, swapping out a few circuits and, presto!, a machine that is new again! Wouldn’t it be just as great if it was equally as easy to upgrade our own project skills?

Early on in my career, I understood that the reason so many of my managers had been stuck in their positions for so long was that they were still using the same tools and methods they had learned in college or the first few years of their career. It wasn’t that my managers were unintelligent, it was that the world had moved while they had remained still. When I had this epiphany, I made a resolution to never let my skills stagnate and drag down my career progression.

Traditional Methods

There are numerous ways in which we can keep our skills sharp, many of which are methods we’ve known about for years, but may have forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Almost every town in a modern society has access to a community college or university. These places of higher learning provide different methods for professional workers to take classes and earn credit for their efforts. Whether the classes are taken with a specific degree in mind or are they are taken just for specific domain knowledge, the knowledge gained is very valuable. My MBA courses provided me a wealth of knowledge that I still use on a daily basis.

If you do not have access to post-secondary education, you may have access to local training providers who may have training courses that could aid you with your training needs. These institutions don’t provide degrees, but will often have training paths for specific skills (Project Management, Business Analysis, User Experience, etc), often leading to recognized certifications. These institutes usually require less time to achieve a certificate than a university would to attain a degree and they often have more flexible class hours than a more traditional school.

Lastly, if you don’t have internet access (how are you reading this, btw?), you can always pick up a bound, dead tree (these things called books) and read your way into a more knowledgeable future. Your local bookstore or library likely has a wide ranging selection of business, process and technology books waiting for you to lay hands upon them.

Modern Methods

Its possible that none of those traditional methods either meet your schedule or your needs in terms of training. Fortunately for us, these methods are no longer our only options. The internet age has opened up all kinds of new options.

It is possible that you don’t have access to schooling at either of the previously mentioned types of facilities, but if you’re reading this, you do have access to a computer and thus, can participate in online learning programs. There are many online education providers who, for nominal fees, allow access to their catalog of training programs. These programs cover everything from traditional training programs down to office and secretarial skills.

The next option is a service called iTunes U. This is a great service, provided by many of the top universities in the world who have recorded lectures by their professors and luminary guests which are then provided to the public who can download the content for free. The subject matter of the lectures cover a very broad range of topics, allowing us to learn whatever suits our fancy and at our own pace.

Another method is  MIT’s Open Courseware, a project sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the school’s course materials are posted online for free. There are many business and technology classes available for review. Syllabus, lecture notes and suggested readings for many classes provide a wealth of knowledge from some of the brightest minds in the world.

Because you’re reading this, you likely already know that there are many blogs and websites that can provide a wealth of knowledge for free or at a minimal charge. Many of these websites update with new written content on a regular basis. A few sites provide podcasts or video content if text articles are not your preferred method of learning. Sites that offer podcasts are great for those of us who have long commutes or who travel for our jobs. Most of these sites also provide a news feed which you can use in a news reader, so you are alerted whenever new content is published on the site.

The last modern method is actually the same as the last traditional method, but with a twist. Books no longer require a dead tree due to electronic gadgets like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook or the Apple iPad. These devices allow you to take hundreds of books with you wherever you go and make it incredibly convenient to enhance your skills whenever you have a moment of time.

So these are the methods that I put together on ways to enhance your skills. Have you used any other methods that I didn’t cover? Share it with us in the comments!

Image courtesy of wikimedia.org