Most sports and entertainment professionals I know would love to enhance their skill sets through independent online learning. Unfortunately, just a very small percentage of that group actually has the time to research resources, identify the best options, and then take advantage of them. Both frustratingly and understandably, the everyday obligations of our jobs (and those pesky personal lives we’ve got to consider as well) always seem to get in the way.

However, I’m here to tell you that it can be done. With a bit of planning, you too can find the time to learn a new skill without sacrificing your other responsibilities! Here’s how:

Choose A Subject That Interests You

Sounds obvious, but bear with me for a second. If you’re a typical professional looking to improve, there are probably skills you would like to master, and skills you think it would be professionally beneficial for you to learn. When kicking off your “continuing education journey”, I suggest you start by focusing on the skill you personally are most interested in. That will make it easy (or at least easier) for you to carve out the time necessary to learn the chosen skill and, more importantly, stay engaged throughout the learning process. Later, once you get in the habit of online learning, you can move on to topics that may not be as riveting to you and likely still remain engaged.

Pick the Right Structure

Some people learn best in group environments, while other prefer solo learning. Some people absorb new data most optimally in short bursts, while others need the continuity and immersion of longer “classes”. I’m guessing you know which of those categories you fit in to (I know I do!), so use that information as the basis for your approach to continuing education. If you’re someone who wants to engage in discussions about what you’re learning and take, say, one long class per week vs. 5-10 shorter mini-sessions, Coursera may be a good option for you. Alternatively, if you prefer to work alone and in shorter intervals – 10 minutes here, 20 there – an online “learning library” like Treehouse might be a better bet.

Also, think about your learning style. Do you prefer consuming information by watching videos, reading academic texts, or engaging in hands-on practice? Keep that in mind when evaluating your options – if you pick a content source that delivers information via the method you find most engaging, you will be more likely to stay focused throughout the track.

Schedule It In

Take it from someone who knows: you’ll never achieve your online learning goals if you adopt the approach of “Oh, I’ll fit in a class/reading/exercise whenever I find the time.” Instead, schedule a recurring meeting on your calendar during which you can focus 100% on whatever your learning objectives are that week. If you need to cancel it, reschedule it within 24 hours so you don’t fall behind.

During that “meeting”, put aside all other distractions. Shut down your email (or at least minimize it), close your other browser windows and files, don’t take any calls, and devote your full attention to your chosen subject.

Remember the Value

It’s easy to dismiss non-required continuing education as not very important. However, this is a big mistake. Expanding your skill set and knowledge base is great for you and your employer. Don’t forget that. New skills look great on your resume, and the smarter, more informed and more capable you are, the more valuable you are as an employee. Plus, the more likely you are to be able to stay competitive with younger employees who may have just taken a full college course on the technology or concept you took the initiative to self-learn online!

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