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A 21st Century Education

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 Last week I spoke to a group of college seniors about standing out, getting ahead, and thriving in this new economy.  One of the things I stressed is that school may end, but learning never does.  Many of the things they learned as college freshmen will be outdated by the time they take their first job. 

One of my main points was that you have to be a lifelong learner in order to enjoy true success.  Although I think it can benefit many parts of our lives, it is highly beneficial even if you only do it for your career.  As U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said, “The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 may not have existed in 2004.”

The Knowledge Age

We are living in the Knowledge Age.  I think that ShiftingThinking.org has it right when they say, “The Knowledge Age is a new, advanced form of capitalism in which knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth”

The flow of information will only continue to get faster.  In order to stay at the cutting edge of your craft and to take advantage of modern opportunities as they present themselves, ongoing learning is a must.

Obviously there are the traditional methods.  I enjoy going to conferences and seminars.  There are also workshops, community college, etc.  But technology allows us to learn in ways that have never before been possible.  By taking advantage of the resources around us, you can learn in ways that are more convenient, more customized directly to your needs, and less expensive, if not outright free. 

The best part is how much this levels the playing field for the ambitious.  You can take advantage of this age we live in because we have an abundance of information instantly available to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long.  You have the ability to access this information, organize it, and convert it into action and create knowledge.  Knowledge with a purpose is Power.

Self Education is Vital for Success

 If you talk to any successful person in any field, they will tell you that lifelong learning has played a key role in their achievements.  Even at the top of his game, Michael Jordan continued to learn new methods and techniques and improve his performance.

Also we can’t forget the many extremely successful people throughout history who have almost completely self educated themselves.  Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple, dropped out of Reed College after only one semester.  It is well known that Thomas Edison had only three months of schooling, what is less well known is how much he loved to read.  He was one of the first people to use the Detroit Free Library.  His library card was #33.  It is said that he went through each shelf in the library in an organized fashion and read every single book they had.

A few other successful self educated people are:  Alexander Graham Bell, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Lindbergh, Walt Disney, billionaires Richard Branson and Ted Turner.

Bill Gates has taken online classes for years.

And I can’t forget two of my favorite role models, Andrew Carnegie and Ben Franklin.

In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any successful person who wasn’t a strong believer in self education.

Is a Traditional Education still Necessary?

I’m not downplaying the importance of a college education.  There are several pros and cons to a college education, which I won’t go into here.  To each their own.    I will say that I’m glad to have created the opportunity for me to return to school and get a college degree.  It played its part in getting me where I am today.  But even during this time, I was reading on average a book a week and taking advantage of the many free resources available on the internet. 

My view on college is that it helped supplement my self education.  The strenuous curriculum I placed on myself made it easier to cope with traditional college courses.  The result was that I graduated one of the best public universities in the world with a 3.9 GPA.  I could care less about the academic achievement.  I’m more satisfied with the personal achievement, proving it could be done, breaking down the barriers and conquering the challenge.  And yes, on a day to day basis I use much more of my self education than my formal education.

But it is important to understand that no matter what your level of education, learning is a ongoing, continuous process.  Focused, accelerated learning in niche topics related to your ambitions is a necessity.  We now have access to resources for knowledge that just a generation ago would have seemed unimaginable for the average person to obtain.  Who’d of thought that one day we’d be able to take a Harvard course — on our lunch break – for free?

A Final Word from Bill Gates

Bill Gates clearly states that the most successful people in the near future will self educate using free online resources.  He says, “Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university”

Fortunately Bill, we don’t even have to wait five years.  There are many places on the web today to obtain top notch knowledge that you can use to achieve your ambitions. In a follow-up post I’ll share the top 25 places for a free online education.

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