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Personal Learning

My prior article on Learning in the Workplace discussed how to take advantage of learning opportunities at work. However much you learn at work, there are limitations on what you can do. Seldom do you have free reign to study any topic that catches your interest for as long as you want. This is why you need to spend time learning outside of work, which I call personal learning.

I believe that personal learning is a necessary component of an effective professional development plan. While you can learn a lot at work, the learning that occurs is focused on the technologies and problems that you are working on. As professionals in a rapidly changing industry, it is important to stay informed about new technologies and trends. I use my personal learning time primarily for this purpose. Occasionally there is a new (or existing) technology or skill that I feel I need to learn or improve. If work does not provide the opportunity, then I use my personal learning time.

For example, years ago when the programming language Ruby was first becoming popular in North America due in part to David Thomas' and Andrew Hunt's book Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmers' Guide, I became aware that I knew very little about highly object-oriented, dynamically typed languages such as Smalltalk or Ruby. I had read positive feedback about language features like blocks and mixins, but I had no idea what they were. I knew I had to address this gap in my knowledge. I couldn't justify using Ruby at work, so on my personal time I bought the book, downloaded Ruby, and started investigating. I soon learned all about blocks, mixins and other nice features of Ruby. In fact, I now bemoan the lack of such features in Java.

The chief difficulty with personal learning is finding time to pursue it. When you are working a full-time job and have other hobbies or family commitments, finding any time outside of work can be a challenge. Like other beneficial activities such as physical exercise, not providing this time for yourself will be detrimental in the long-term. It is important to tackle learning activities that provide maximum benefit for the time spent. In future articles I will present the personal learning activities that I use and explain my strategy for making the most of my time. In the meantime, check out my Resources page which provides links to a variety of information I have learned a lot from.

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