Your learning path is your roadmap to gaining skills and knowledge that you
- Didn’t learn in school
- Aren’t learning or don’t have time to learn on-the-job; and
- Will help you meet your career goals. Whether that means a new position, a raise, or a new career altogether.
Why do you need to plan your path?
You’ve heard the saying, “the difference between a dream and a goal is a PLAN?” Well, that is why you need to mark out your path. Without it, it’s impossible to track your progress to see how far you’ve come or to know what you should do next to move toward that dream job.
Setting your goals
Your field and career goals will determine a lot about the learning that you choose.
If you are in certain professions (accounting, law, or nursing, for example), you are already responsible for earning a specified number of continuing education hours to keep your licensing current. But beyond that, you may look at soft skills training, project management, and technical training on new software systems that you can implement.
If you are not in a profession that has mandated continuing education hours, you may look at pursuing a certificate in an area that would benefit you. To get an idea of what certifications might be relevant for you and your field, take a look at your career role models.
The influencers you follow in your field, or those who have the position you want to have someday, look to see what letters follow their names. Find out what certifications they hold then do some research to see if those would be helpful for you.
Another way to see what might be good for you is to look at job postings for positions you would like to have someday (you don’t have to be actively seeking a new job, just check out the job descriptions of open positions). Under the required or preferred qualifications, there are likely some certifications, training, or skills listed that you don’t yet have.
These make great goals to work toward in your learning pursuits.
Personal learning preferences
“Know thyself” is so applicable to learning. With all of the learning opportunities available today – live classes, online, blended, games, hybrids, micro, and more – you really have your choice of how to get your education. But just because all of those options are out there, doesn’t mean they will all work for you.
- Are you easily distracted?
- Do you like interacting with others?
- Do you like to ask questions and get immediate answers?
- Are you self-motivated?
- How busy is your schedule (home, work, etc.)?
- Is completion of a class a motivating factor for you?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but your answers say a lot about what type of learning will serve you best.
Start with low-hanging fruit
Look to see what opportunities your employer offers in training and professional development. Some companies have partnerships with online skills training companies such as Lynda.com or Skillsoft. There may be training in both technical and soft skills, as well as exam prep classes for certifications that may be applicable to your career. If your employer has such a partnership, these classes are likely offered free to you, the employee.
Another employer resource may be tuition reimbursement. If your employer offers this, check the specifics of the reimbursement. In some cases, this may apply only to classes that earn academic credit hours or you may even be limited to classes in a specific field relating to your job duties. Other companies are more flexible with tuition reimbursement and will allow you to take any class you are interested in whether it earns credits or not. In this case, you may be able to apply your tuition reimbursement toward Project Management or Six Sigma training.
The bottom line
Pursue training that helps you reach a new career goal, interests you, strengthens your contribution to your organization, and works with your learning style.