Lifelong Learning and the Web
by Pamela Saalbach
Inspired by some of you who expressed an interest in Web-delivered distance education last meeting, I've decided to share more about what I've learned about distance education in the two years I've been on the Web.
I don't remember how I got started on this long search, but it has resulted in the weaving of an exciting path to a new professional endeavor. Please don't ask me what it is yet because it is still in the making — a vague composite of cross-cultural human-computer interaction, perhaps directed at adult literacy and/or technology education for women. My residence in Asia for six years has taught me to appreciate just how essential education is to developing countries — and getting "the other half" of the potential workforce trained to an employable level. Women's literacy is an enormous bottleneck toward progress. Just visit a UNESCO site or two on the Web if you don't believe me.
To return to my message to you, the Web holds an extraordinary potential for you in your personal and professional growth. If you have any reservations about the quality of education by distance relative to face-to-face instruction in a classroom, drop them immediately. It was tough convincing hubby, a manager of corporate training, until his alma mater — a Big Ten school — appeared on the Web with courseware. Now there are hundreds of universities that offer a magnificent array of subjects by a distance — from high school diplomas to doctorates — and everything in between.
Think of distance learning as simply other learning delivery methods. The only difference between it and a classroom experience (other than the technology used for delivery, of course) is your own level of self-motivation. This is a HUGE difference. You've got to be the one motivating yourself to move through the learning process. The pressure of scheduled classes, homework and exams — false motivators anyway — doesn't exist. The pressure comes only from you. You have to WANT to learn.
Distance learning has been around a very long time — mostly in the form of correspondence courses (paper-based mailed materials). If you want to know more about today's correspondence programs and the other methods of obtaining education from a distance, just find a copy of John Bear's excellent book, Bear's Guide to Earning College Degrees Nontraditionally. I learned from this book that if I can't find a degree program I want, I can design my own through a handful of credentialed institutions. I've chosen this path for myself, but there are many, many formally structured and highly reputable programs out there that you may prefer. I strongly encourage you to explore them! I'll be giving you some Web links later in this article for you to do so.
Adopt lifelong learning with gusto!
There are a number of pressing reasons why you should do this. They all boil down to "refreshing a stale cache" for your self-preservation. The world's rapid state of flux may cause you to fear its catapulting you out of a job. Just wait until the trend in merging of technologies gains momentum in the next few years! The very best preparation for this imminent possibility is to anticipate and plan for it. Further education that adds to or enhances your set of skills is your protection against unforeseen change. You really CAN get your brain to work again, if that is what is stopping you! ;-)
Recently, I was on the phone with a friend who is "officially" retired. Do you know what this fellow is doing? He is hunting for a part-time job that uses the new skills he just learned in a CAD class! He chose to enhance his long unused skills in drafting by taking this course. Bravo for him! There is a delightful woman I admire who is in her 60s who traveled with me through remote Indonesia on a local sailing vessel a couple of years ago. A refreshing person to be around and one I hope to emulate when I'm her age, she shared some of her photography skills and energetic outlook on life with me on the trip. Back on land, she showed me the results of some of her darkroom developing tricks — beautiful photos with extremely interesting effects. When I told her that the kinds of things she was doing were now done on computer, she couldn't wait to witness the art staff in action at a friend's computer graphics firm in Singapore. Her comment? "When I return to France next month, I'm going back to school." How wonderful!
By contrast, a person close to me has been trying to find work after being away from the workforce for a long time. When he was active, he was a respected and competent manager. But he's fallen on bad economic times recently, and in his late forties, he is needing to re-enter the workforce. So far, months of searching have not met with much success. With few to no good leads, can you imagine this fellow's level of self-confidence?
Your situation is not likely to be either of these two extremes. Nevertheless, realize that the care and feeding of your brain is just as important as that of your stomach. Learning has a way of revitalizing a stale career, re-energizing a secure career, re-inspiring a dusty dream, or rekindling a love of learning. Seek it out as an investment in a youthful and supple brain. No kidding! People who keep their brains actively engaged have a lower risk of getting Alzheimer's.
How do you find what you don't know you're looking for?
I recommend starting with things that interest you. They may be subjects in which you are now working. Or they could be subjects you put aside long ago to work in your current area of expertise. Perhaps they are subjects you have always wanted to explore. And if you don't think your current situation allows room for learning, think again. It may just be the revitalizing lift you need to make life a little more interesting.
I have included a page devoted to education at TPC's Web site:
At the TPC home page http://www.tokyopc.org/ click on "Helpful Links to WWW and Computing Information" and follow the hyperlink to "Online Computer Education and Training." Once on this page, you will find many links to computer-related courses. Also, you will find four links under the "Meta-lists for Locating Online Education" heading. Choose the Globewide Network Academy (GNA) link (http://uu-gna.mit.edu:8001/uu-gna/index.html) and click on "Course and Program Catalog" once you are there. Then just search by the categories provided or input your own search terms. GNA maintains a HUGE high-quality database. I use it long before the other three links, preferring the World Lecture Hall the least. Many of its links are only to courses with "information" about campus-delivered courses on the Web, which is of no use if you are hunting for distance education.
At January's meeting, I mentioned two institutions I thought might be of interest to many of you — the University of Idaho's Engineering Outreach (http://www.uidaho.edu/evo/), and the National Technological University (NTU) (http://www.ntu.edu/). I recently completed two courses through the University of Idaho that I learned about over the Web, but that are delivered via videotape to my home. The quality of the courses is good and the school is among the top 365 educational institutions in the U.S. The outreach staff are superb and I have had no troubles obtaining the course materials in Japan. National Technological University is a consortium of many top educational institutions in the U.S. An impressive list of corporations encourage employees to pursue technical training through NTU. You, as an individual, can also take advantage of the offerings of certificates and degrees. Most courses are delivered at satellite downlink sites, and I believe there are places here in Japan where you can take advantage of this high quality education. Just e-mail the NTU staff for further information. Nationality does not appear to be an issue with these institutions nor with others I have run across. However, it is a good idea to check with each institution, because entrance policies do differ.
Now go and refresh your cache — and have a good time! It is guaranteed to be one of the best gifts you can ever give yourself. If you're lucky, your company will even pay for it!
The links I gave you in this article are only a very few of the many distance learning sites on the Web. If you have any questions about distance learning, please don't hesitate to contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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