Keeping Skills Sharp: Is Online Learning for You?

You can’t ignore it. Competition is ever present in the business world, and you have to stay sharp and alert to deal with threats and to seize opportunities. To do both, you not only need information, but the understanding and discernment to use that information to check which way the wind is blowing.

One way to refine your mastery regarding your niche, your customers, and your market, is to study. Not just do research, but  using the path of deliberate, self-paced, self-directed education to promote your growth and experience inside and outside of your business,  to promote both depth and reach.

Fortunately, we have an over-abundance of choices now.  You  won’t even be strictly required to  enroll unless you think it’s the best option for you. With all the free resources available, at the most basic level, if you have stable internet access, the time, and the perseverance, you can start as soon as you want.

Things have become very much interconnected in our world today;  Even a small event happening far away can ripple out in unexpected ways. Change comes faster, and entrepreneurs are hard-pressed to keep up and manage all the shifts, side-steps, and set-backs that come from that. Continuing education is a great help in learning to use change to our advantage — but you still have to be the one to choose.  This isn’t high school any more.  No one can choose for you, and you have to do the work or it simply won’t get done.

Helpful link: Deep Work And Deep learning For Your  Career And your Life (The Simple Dollar)

A lot of things can bring a business down, and one general problems that covers things like equipment, methodologies, and planning is being outdated, relying on a way of thinking that doesn’t fully take into account the changes that have been and are happening in the market, especially in terms of technology, consumer behavior, and trends.

For example, there are essential marketing and business principles   that you need to master in the course of running your business  The psychology of marketing, for example, which deals with what influences people to buy, and how to use that motivation to sell your products. Another is keeping track of the money (good accounting practices) and making good investments in marketing campaign choices, so that every bit of the money that is invested can have a positive return.

Then there are marketing and business skills  that you need to understand and master to keep current. Digital marketing is a booming business all by itself, and there are analytical skills, social media platform skills, data-gathering programs and software, etc. that require a lot of brainpower to use well, so being able to identify and select a good supporting service to outsource your marketing to (if you chose not to do it in-house) is also a thing that requires knowledge.

People on top of their game know their strengths and outsource the areas where they’re weak in. If you want to go further you have to put in the effort to know where and what you need to work on to get and hone the skills you need to stay ahead of your competition.

Are you the type to stay on course without a real-life teacher?
You need to be able to learn in the way that best suits how you absorb information, in a way that fits your schedule, and that can help you practice the new skills until you get the hang of them. That’s the goal– you learn new skills that are applicable to your situation. You won’t know what works best until you try, so dip your toe in the pool to test things out. Automated delivery or pre-recorded coursework may not elicit feedback or engagement in a timely manner, but on the other hand, you can get to judge for yourself  the quality of the subject being taught.

What can work against you?
Being faced with too many choices.
Online courses are offered by a lot of colleges now to accommodate distance learning for busy schedules — telecommuting isn’t restricted to just work. There are still real-live classes in business schools and institutions, or seminars, whether in your niche market or from government business units for entrepreneurs. In that case, do you have the time and the discipline to invest in possible commutes and classroom time?  A commute may not seem like much on paper, but there are real time repercussions for unpredictability of traffic, for example.

Find out what’s available online and locally to see what choices you have, and start narrowing things down to what suits you best.

Check what the requirements are and hold them up against your regular  schedule– if a course is 6 to 8 months long (just as an example) in the next six to eight months can you sustain the pace? Do you have the financial and environmental support to do so?

Lack of clarity about your goals.
You might be lured in by the name of the institution offering the course– for example, an MBA from Wharton or Harvard,  etc , but is is right for you? Is an MBA what you want? What are the skills you believe you need to improve on? It’s easy to fall into the fantasy of a golden certificate magically giving you the skills to take you to the top–but anyone who put their time in knows that it’s not where you learn, but what you can use and how you use it that matters.

Timeliness.
How structured is your schedule? You can study online, or in  a classroom environment. You can attend  seminars, or  if they’re available you can sign up for a local business group, or apply for membership . You can tap you network and see if there’s people willing and available to be mentors.

Artificial pressure.
It’s too easy to get information–what you need is intel. What do you need to improve on? How do you want it to improve? The answers dictate the kind of information and type of learning you need. There are, of course, online forums dedicated to such areas, but you also run the usual risks of a public forum, virtual or not: trolls, vague advice, etc. In any case, you can still  plan to ensure there’s a fallback position for you

The Chinese saying “Walk on both feet” means to study and apply at the same time.
Think of all the subjects you had in high school that you never applied to your working and day to day life now. You can’t waste your time anymore.  You’re  someone with your own business and thus responsible for how you use your time, your energy and your focus. So when it comes to online studying, the weight isn’t on the course, or the lecturer, but on you to break apart the information you’ll be taking in and re-building it in a way that makes you more effective at doing your job, and making you a better entrepreneur.

Helpful links:
Get an MBA-Equivalent Education with These Free Courses (Lifehacker)
How To Get An MBA For Free Online
Coursera’s iMBA program
The 10 Cheapest Online MBA Programs of 2016
US Small Business Administration

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