As a life-long learner and deeply curious person, I find myself in mid-life considering what my next learning path looks like.  Ostensibly, I’m successful in my career and have a long fruitful road ahead, regardless of whether I gain any further credentials.  I could keep working and growing, deepening my global experience, as I execute on company objectives.  While there may not be a particular need to gain a formal qualification, I still harbor a thirst to know more. 

The question I have been grappling with is what is the best path for learning for people like me? How can I quench my thirst for knowledge in a way that benefits me personally and professionally. The more I talk about this, the more I hear and see that there are a lot of people facing similar dilemmas. 

My default previously has been to get a degree via the formal university route.  I like to study, and enjoy the deep dive into subjects that a traditional degree from a University entails.  What pushed me over the edge was a previous colleague who shared that she was embarking on her PhD. I was immediately envious and thought that would be something for me to consider, too.  However, since I work in the EdTech industry,  I decided to reconsider my traditional bias.  What would serve me best – a traditional university education or diving into the more diverse online options?  

I started with picking a topic – as the leader of a global team of people, I know there’s always more to learn and skills that I could hone.  My topic would be Leadership. 

I started with books – I read and explored a wide variety of books on leadership.  Each book would lead me to another and another. I read biographies of excellent and poor leaders to glean insights I could apply to my own leadership style. In each book I gained a handful of good ideas that I could put into practice.  This path, however, was a solitary expedition.  I was on my own, and forward progress was fully dependent on my own initiative. There was little discussion, and any reflection was for my own introspection. 

Next, I enrolled in an online leadership course via a free platform.  I duly completed the expected tasks, submitted the assignments and participated in the discussion forums.  I debated and shared examples of successful leadership vs unsuccessful leadership.  I created connections around the world with others who were also grappling with this gnarly topic.  This was a path that was far more social and engaging.  While I was led down a path that was not necessarily bespoke to my situation, I did find the benefit of engaging and dialogue with others who were grappling with similar issues nudged me out of any comfort zones. 

Finally, I embarked on a series of informal conversations with other leaders that I could relatively access easily.  Together we shared our experiences, what tools we used and how we solved particular challenges.  This path was the slowest and least fruitful, because it was tricky and time-consuming to find the right people to speak to, and then creating an environment where openness and honesty was comfortable.  

What did I learn?  

The modality of learning is less important than the fact of maintaining one’s curiosity and desire to learn as well as a willingness to make mistakes along the way.