Work On Your Wellness: Continuing Education
In the context of professional growth, continuing education helps expand one’s knowledge and skills as well as reinforce existing competencies. Tech professionals need to continue learning in order to stay relevant in their occupation, win promotions, or move to another tech specialty. With technology evolving apace, it is crucial to stay abreast of developments in their field and new technologies.
Maintaining an ongoing learning process throughout one’s career is beneficial for more reasons than just professional and personal stability and development. Sustained learning over a lifetime can preserve mental health and help prevent dementia. It can also stave be stimulating and energizing, provide a sense of purpose, and improve your self-image.
Wellness Benefits of Continuing Education
Cognitive Health — Learning stimulates the brain and has the potential to improve cognitive function. Research indicates that the process of acquiring new knowledge, whether it is through formal or non-formal education processes, or conducted casually, has a positive effect on nerve cells in the brain.
Learning increases the number of neural pathways or connections, thereby enabling impulses to move faster. The brain’s ability to continually change or rewire itself by creating new connections, modifying existing ones, and getting rid of those no longer in use, is known as neuroplasticity.
Mental Agility — Moving out of your mental comfort zone and working on those faculties of the brain that you rarely use can help you stay mentally agile. Such flexibility is all the more important in a rapidly evolving economy and work environment. A flexible mind is more capable of developing new skills, adjusting to diverse situations and adopting a different approach when required.
Emotional Stability — Learning how to code, play a new instrument, or paint can divert the mind from work anxiety, reduce stress and make you a happier person. (You can substitute any number activities that require learning into the previous sentence, from learning new board games to teaching oneself the process of building or repairing something.) This in turn increases energy and enhances immune function.
Emotional intelligence — Attending classes offline or online, interacting with others who are eager to learn, or participating in different learning experiences and obtaining knowledge can all help enhance emotional intelligence. This can increase one's ability to relate to others. An emotionally developed mind is more open and welcoming of new information and new perspectives, more intuitive, more empathetic, and better able to shake off prejudices.
Confidence and self-esteem — Gaining knowledge, developing a new skill, earning a degree, diploma or certification — yet another benefit of IT certifications — gives you a sense of accomplishment and can boost confidence.
Also, people who sustain learning through formal, non-formal and casual means tend to be more interesting people. They can converse on a range of topics and share insights, making others want to interact with them. This can increase one’s self-esteem, helping one to better handle daily challenges and do better at work and in personal life.
Benefits of Formal Education
Formal education refers to institutionalized and structured learning or training courses delivered by universities, colleges or other authorised institutions. Formal education typically concludes with a diploma or certificate recognized by relevant national and state educational and vocational training authorities.
IT certification programs offered by vendors or trade associations such as CompTIA are also structured and culminate in specific professional credentials. This is often categorized as non-formal education, with the primary difference being that non-formal education tends to be self-directed and self-paced.
Formal education includes university and college degree programs as well as degree, diploma and certificate courses offered by recognized professional institutes. Non-formal education includes certification programs, corporate training programs and other skill-development courses organized by employers, professional associations, vendors and industry groups.
Formal and non-formal education can help tech workers earn relevant qualifications and credentials. These are necessary to career growth and sustained progression in some instances, depending on one’s career goals, employer or vendor requirements, role prerequisites, or compliance with professional standards and suitable learning style.
Apart from career development, formal and non-formal education can help to improve mental and physical wellbeing, expand one’s professional and social networks, and develop adaptability and resilience.
Benefits of Casual Learning
Casual or Informal learning is self-directed. It encompasses a wide range of lifelong learning activities, including development of knowledge, skills, behaviour and standards, that occur in an unplanned way in the course of everyday experience. Such learning is unstructured and open-ended. There are various forms of casual education, including reading, virtual and in-person conversation, videos and podcasts, tinkering, exploring, spending time on a hobby, and other life experiences.
Reading, working on a hobby, tinkering with gadgets at home or exploring the world through podcasts and other media are all stimulating informal learning experiences that can help us develop new ways of thinking. These activities also serve to take one’s mind off workplace pressures and help overworked tech professionals relax and shed stress.
Where to Look for Learning
Formal and non-formal learning opportunities are available at universities, colleges, professional and vocational institutes, industry and professional associations, in the work environment, from vendors and online.
Once you’ve decided on the topic and format of study, shortlist suitable universities and institutes in your preferred location that offer part-time degree or diploma programs. If you want to study for a certification exam, visit the website of the certification provider for necessary information.
You might want to discuss your options with friends, trusted colleagues and other industry peers, as well as family members and personal or professional mentors. These people may be able to offer valuable tips and suggestions.
Informal educational opportunities are available in your own environment. Some learning occurs in the course of daily life. There’s plenty of reading material online and offline, YouTube videos and podcasts, online forums for discussions on a range of topics.
Learning opportunities also present themselves in conversations with various people, community activities and the whole range of life experiences. Instead of calling a repair service the next time something around the house break, for example, you could try fixing it yourself.
A Balanced Approach to Learning
You know best how much learning would be suitable for you at any point in time. It depends on your situation, career goals, work schedule, and personal circumstances.
You may want to pursue a specific formal course such as an MS in Computer Science or Data Science or a non-formal certification program in order to advance your career or move to a new career path in IT. To be able to study for a degree or certification alongside a full-time job, you will need to manage time efficiently.
Working full-time and studying in your free time is possible if you prepare a plan. Outline how many evenings per week and hours per weekend you can spare for part-time classes and exam preparation, keeping enough time for family and personal life.
It’s a good idea to make some time for learning with the intention of developing a more flexible approach and strengthening your brain. Experts advise learning something that doesn’t normally come easily to you. For example, you may be very good with computers and math, but verbal skills may not be well developed. Consider learning a new language. This could take time, but you can learn at your own pace. Sustaining the practice is key.
For some professionals, the best learning outcomes can come from participating in both structured, goal-oriented education programs, as well as consistently making time for informal learning activities.