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Are you keeping your spear sharp?

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By Jim Daniels

It’s all too easy for learning and development needs to suffer given today’s do-more-with-less culture and strained corporate budgets. We are under pressure to complete the current assignment while simultaneously trying to embrace the next one. Our continuous need for knowledge suffers in the process. As time goes by, skills suffer, performing our jobs becomes more challenging, and the cycle just repeats itself. This is not a happy place to be, and it’s a safe bet to say there are no winners in this scenario. This is why it’s so important to consider learning options that can be integrated into our daily work routine.

Think of your role in an organization from the perspective of what you do, and particularly what it takes to do what you do effectively. Distilling this concept down to a rather primitive level may help drive home the importance of integrating learning and professional development activity into your daily routine as a means to achieve better work outputs and to enjoy a more rewarding career.

A Stone Age analogy

Let’s look at this situation through the lens of some long forgotten caveman that had only a spear to aid in his efforts to forage for food. He understood the importance of the spear as an essential tool for putting a meal on the table, and he knew how to effectively use the spear. Heck, let’s just say he had more spear usage knowledge than anyone else when it came to foraging and hunting. That’s all good and well, but he also knew that his accumulated experience and expertise was still not enough.

Every day before the caveman ventured into the wilds to search for food, he made a point of setting aside time to make sure his spear was in tip-top condition. This was his real differentiator, and ultimately what led to fulfilling his objective consistently and effectively. He always made time to “sharpen the spear”. No one told him to do it. No one did it for him. He took initiative on his own and had the discipline to make sure this vital need was never ignored.

Resources to help keep your spear sharp

We have come a long way since the Stone Age, but the simple principle of making sure the tools of our trade are up to the task remains unchanged. In a knowledge based work world, our minds represent the spear of our day. This begs the question of what resources we can leverage to help keep our skills in tip-top shape when time and budget constraints work against us. Here are a few alternative learning approaches and resources that can be integrated into your daily work routine to address incremental skill development.

e-Learning

Self-Paced Virtual Courses (SPVC) and Web-Based Training (WBT) offerings available from IBM’sGlobal Training Providersprovide a very effective and affordable approach for growing your skills at a pace that fits your schedule. Many of the SPVC offerings provide the same content and access to hands-on exercises that you would experience with traditional instructor-led classroom offerings. The big advantage to this approach to learning is that you can start and pause the course based on a schedule you determine.

Learning Circles

Many companies across our industry are establishing community spaces where people can come together to learn and share knowledge about a subject. Learning circles are designed as a collection of resources and guided learning activities chosen by subject matter experts that you can leverage to create your own personalized learning roadmap.You can check off items as you complete them, break away whenever you need to, and easily return anytime. No guesswork; no wasted time trying to recreate where you were. IBMdeveloperWorksplays host to a broad range oflearning circlesthat you can start to explore right now.

Technical Libraries

Don’t overlook the value of technical libraries as a means to establish a learning stream to keep up with the latest products, technologies, trends, and use-case information. This method of skill development is every bit as valid as any other approach, and it has particular importance for staying on top of new technology developments in real-time. This method of learning is also among the easiest to integrate into your work routine. An excellent example of one such resource is IBMdeveloperWorks technical library, which includes articles, videos, and tutorials covering both IBM and non-IBM technical topics. Many of the articles are submitted by people just like you, which translates to highly valuable “been there, done that” perspectives on applying products and technologies in real-life scenarios.

MOOC

The entrance of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offerings across academia and even the corporate workplace have broadened the integrated work and learning options even further. An internet search of MOOC will yield a growing list of these types of providers with offerings covering almost any subject imaginable. While some MOOCs offer a broad range of subject matter, others specialize in a specific area of interest. One example of a specialized MOOC provider isBig Data University, which is managed by a group of Hadoop, Big Data and information management enthusiasts who have a simple goal to learn, contribute, and network with others with similar interests.

Final Thoughts

Augmenting traditional instructor-led training with these and other similar forms of learning resources could make a real difference in your professional growth and success. We have a tendency to think of training as something we’ll do when the work load settles down or as a structured activity that requires us to step away from our jobs for a day or two, or even longer. In other words, we tend to view the two activities as separate endeavors when in fact they don’t always need to be. While structured training is, and will continue to be, important for ongoing skill development, we also have to think beyond the traditional classroom and look at other approaches for maintaining and growing our skills. We need to embrace methods that allow us to integrate learning with our regular jobs.

Look for a follow up article next month providing insights and techniques for building the type of active learner habits necessary to take full advantage of these alternative forms of learning resources.

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Jim Daniels is a senior program leader for IBM’s education and accreditation growth initiatives targeted at driving transformation and expansion of IBM’s training and skills recognition programs worldwide. Daniels was responsible for development and launch of IBM’s first self-paced virtual course initiative, as well as the first self-paced learning library platform leveraged by IBM’s worldwide services and technical sales organization. Daniels was also instrumental in driving the development of IBM’s Global Skills Initiative launched in 2013. Daniels has served in a broad range of global leadership roles throughout his career with an emphasis on education development and delivery, professional consulting services, and technical sales business strategy and execution. You can reach Jim onLinkedInor Twitter @danielsje.

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