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8 Ways to Pursue a Professional Education Outside the Classroom

Before you enroll in another graduate degree program to advance your career, consider some of these time- and cost-effective professional educational alternatives.
Inspiration
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These days, certifications and degrees don’t always lead to the promised land of secure, high-paying jobs as they did in the past. On top of that, the expense of obtaining an advanced degree is daunting, if not suffocating, to think about. And for some regret-filled job seekers, shelling out for that graduate degree means saddling oneself with a mountain of debt for an education that doesn’t produce a great return on investment (ROI) in the long run, making those years of school near-impossible to pay off. The situation can make ambitious professionals feel powerless, uncertain and possibly desperate.

If you’re like a former client of mine, Sheryl, even the idea adding new skills to your portfolio can feel like an impossible burden. Sheryl felts she was in a dead-end job as an accountant with a CPA. And though she had already earned an MBA, she entertained the possibility of investing large amounts of time and money to earn another degree in order to advance her career.

“My family had to talk me out of getting a second Master’s so I wouldn’t incur more debt,” Sheryl said.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Sheryl’s plan is far from uncommon. Many frustrated professionals run to expensive advanced-degree programs in an effort to spark their career prospects. But there are other options, options that don’t necessarily mean taking on a boatload of debt or committing yourself to months – or years – in a classroom. These education options can enhance and increase a worker’s skillset and career options without the expense, and – often – the time demands of a graduate education process.

Prepare for the Future

Recent studies have predicted that traditional colleges and universities may become irrelevant as they begin to each outdated ideas and fall behind due to constant changes in technology.

Because of this – and for other reasons – professionals should consider alternatives to the longstanding practice of enrolling in advanced-degree programs when looking to jumpstart their career. Other educational opportunities exist, and they may well prove to be better and more cost-effective launch pads for career advancement.

These opportunities include:

1. Find a Mentor

Undoubtedly, professionals who have already traveled your ideal career path are among the best people to guide you along the same journey. Because of that, asking a veteran in the line of work you want to pursue to become your mentor can pay off in dividends. Thanks to their experience, mentors have learned to navigate bumps in the road that are not taught in school. On top of that, they may become a champion for you professionally, even helping you find job opportunities via their network. Alternatively, you could join a professional peer group, in which participants offer suggestions to each other based on their cumulative experience.

2. Apprenticeships and Internships

On-the-job training in the form or an apprenticeship or internship is an underrated and rarely talked about professional educational opportunity. Frankly, both are legitimate methods for getting a foot in the door of your dream career, and they can certainly lead to better-paying opportunities. Recognizing this, last year, the master of the Apprentice, President Trump signed off on an executive order to substantially increase the availability of apprenticeships. The real-world experience can provide an education that’s hard to duplicate in a classroom setting.

3. Look to the Non-Traditional Learning Paths First

Many frustrated professionals are rushing headlong to the traditional educational formats, not understanding that while they may have once been attractive, their value has waned. What these workers need to understand is that many educational opportunities are provided and shared by individuals and not institutions; so, when experienced consultants and trainers offer webinars and valuable training courses, sign up! You’ll likely learn some invaluable lessons or skills, and – just like a classroom – you’ll be able to ask questions after the session. Skillshare, Udemy and LinkedIn – among others – offer training that’s inexpensive and incredibly useful and valuable for those managing their careers.

4. Blogs, Video, Audio

There are some subjects or areas of interests where anyone can make significant educational advances by listening, reading or watching programs via online mediums. Podcasts have become one of the most accessible and popular means of learning, There are countless free podcast apps for your smartphone or computer, and the range of topics available is limitless.

5. Books, eBooks, Audiobooks

Much like podcasts, there are almost countless ways to read and/or listen to books focused on professional education these days. Even YouTube has audiobooks on professional education. eBooks are usually inexpensive; many are sold on Amazon for 99 cents, if you catch them at the right time. Google books is another option with myriad selections focused on business education. (Trade secret: I don’t always finish books that are boring not useful to me. You shouldn’t either.)

6. SlideShare

SlideShare is another powerful learning tool, be they professionals, college students, or even casual learners. Most people think of SlideShare as just a place to store PowerPoint presentations, but it has become an extensive learning resource that allows users to download educational slideshows. LinkedIn has owned SlideShare since purchasing the platform in 2012, when they recognized its power as a learning tool for professionals, on all manner of topics. You don’t have to go far to access SlideShare; it’s easy to access if you already have a LinkedIn profile.

7. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

MOOCss are powerful learning tools produced and hosted by companies such as edX, Khan Academy, Udemy, LinkedIn and Skillshare. They were initially designed to complement traditional education, and for many they have become a significant source of information and training when it comes to career development and advancement. All provide affordable courses on any manner of subjects and easy access to the subject matter. It doesn’t hurt to sign up for their newsletters for occasional discounted courses or free open enrollment offerings. Remember that many online courses (MOOCs) offered by reputable colleges can be found online at edX.

8. Social Media Groups

More often than not, if you’re on Facebook or LinkedIn, your professional interest groups will find you through targeted ads. Considering the platform, you may be less likely to find them through search, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek out professional education groups and ask to join. Most people are invited to closed groups on Facebook because they have engaged with like-minded connections who are already members. If you are not engaging, you are losing out on key opportunities to learn. You don’t have to choose a focused direction. Actively networking is a start in the right direction, particularly if you’re reaching out to inquire about how others got into their field. Everyone starts somewhere, but more importantly, start asking and engaging while you’re curious and hungry for change.

So before you back up and head off to earn a graduate degree, consider some the options above. Not only can they help spur a career change or increase your chances for advancement, they’ll do so while cutting down the time and money usually required for professional education.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK

Have you used any of the above resources to further your professional education? Did you find it effective? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Mark Anthony Dyson
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