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Learning On Your Own

Continuous learning is the only way to remain competitive in an economy that is continuously changing. Your ability to acquire new skills will help you successfully adapt in today's employment landscape.

Where do you start? Right here!

1. Clarify your goals, and identify relevant skills and knowledge

If you are looking for a job, you may discover that the jobs you are qualified for are disappointing. Maybe they do not pay enough or provide the benefits you need, or they involve work that is not a good fit for you. How can you position yourself for jobs that suit you better? First, identify the skills or certifications needed for the kind of job you want, and then list the ones you lack.

  • Read vacancy announcements and job descriptions of the positions you wish to pursue. Paying close attention to the duties, responsibilities, and required experience or education and training.
  • Call to request an informational interview with people who make hiring decisions or who are currently doing the kind of work you’d like to do. 
  • Tap into the career exploration resources and tools at your One-Stop Career Center, including O*Net or labor market information sources.

If you want to earn a better assignment, promotion, or pay raise within the company you work for, identify the skills, knowledge or credentials that will qualify you for advancement.

  • Review your most recent performance review, noting any areas where you did not receive an outstanding or exceeds expectations rating.
  • Ask your supervisor to suggest which skills you should focus on learning or improving. If you do not have a performance review scheduled soon, ask your supervisor how you can improve your ability to contribute to your department's success.
  • Talk to more experienced coworkers or supervisors who are in the positions you would like to qualify for. Ask them about the skills and knowledge they use, how they developed them, and what educational or training credentials they have.
  • Think about your typical workday, and make a list of any tasks that you struggle with, or avoid doing because you lack knowledge or skills. 
  • Notice any new technology or equipment that is being introduced in your workplace, or new products or services offered to customers, and make a point to learn about them.

2. Develop a learning plan

As you identify short-term and long-term learning goals, you can use the following tool to record your goals, the specific skills you want to learn, the learning approaches or resources you’ll use, and other information that can help you stay focused.

My learning agenda

Use the learning agenda table to map out your short-term and long-term career goals and to identify, in general terms, your learning goals.

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My Learning Agenda

Short-Term Career Goals
What skills or credentials do I need in order to qualify for a job I am targeting, or to win an immediate promotion, pay raise, or new assignment?

Long-Term Career Goals
What skills or credentials do I need to continue advancing with current employer, or to make a career change?

My learning action plan

The learning action plan table below gives you space to describe each of your learning goals in more detail. Note the resources or approaches you’ll use to achieve the goals, as well as obstacles you could encounter and the steps or resources to help you overcome those obstacles.

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My Learning Action Plan
My Learning Goal

What skill do I wish to master, what do I want to learn, what credential (certification, license, degree, etc.) do I want to earn?         
                                                           

How will I acquire the skill or knowledge, or earn the credential or certificate?

What schools, websites, videos, manuals, people, or other resources will I use? 

 
What obstacles might prevent me from achieving this goal?

Am I experiencing a lack of money, conflicting obligations, etc.?
 
How will I overcome those obstacles?

 
  
Target completion date 
 

Actual date of completion
 

3. Identify and select learning options or resources

If you want to make a significant career change, it may be wise to take advantage of one of the many educational institutions across the state.

For a comprehensive list of public and private colleges and universities in New Jersey, go to: http://www.state.nj.us/highereducation/colleges/schools_sector.shtml.

For a list of colleges and universities organized by county, go to: http://www.state.nj.us/highereducation/colleges/schools_county.shtml.

To download the inventory of degree programs offered by New Jersey institutions of higher education, go to: nj.gov/highereducation/documents/pdf/Program_Inventory/CIPSORT_CIP.pdf.

New Jersey’s 19 county colleges offer a wide range of high-demand, two-year, associate degree and non-degree certificate programs. New Jersey’s county colleges are listed at njccc.org/contact-us/19-colleges.

Download a list of credit and noncredit programs (including professional certificate programs) offered by New Jersey county colleges here: njccc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2012noncredit.pdf.

You can find another list of post-secondary career and technical education programs at: https://homeroom5.doe.state.nj.us/pctep/.

Ask someone to coach you

Learning from people who are working in a job or position similar to the one you’d like to pursue is a great way to develop new skills and knowledge. The ideal coach is someone who is

  • excellent at what they do
  • willing to share their time, skills, and insights
  • able to clearly explain how to perform the task.

To follow a three-step reverse coaching process ask proficient performers to: 

  1. perform the task at least one time, from start to finish, explaining what they are doing at each step of the process. If it’s a complex task, you may need to ask them to repeat the demonstration.
  2. talk you through the task as you do it one step at a time, correcting you if you make a mistake. Again, you may have to do this more than once if the task is complex or unfamiliar to you.
  3. observe you as you perform the task and as you describe each step, again correcting you if needed. Repeat this step until you’re confident that you’ll be able to perform the task correctly.

Free online training options

A number of universities and other institutions around the country offer free Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, in a wide range of subjects. Typically running for several weeks to several months, these courses allow you to acquire the skills or knowledge you need to advance within your current company or prepare for a different career. Many MOOCs offer continuing Eeducation units (CEUs) and completion certificates.

Four large and widely known sources of MOOCs are Coursera, EdX, Canvas and Khan Academy.

YouTube instructional videos

In addition to music videos and movie trailers, YouTube hosts thousands of “how to” videos related to business communication skills, sales and marketing, supervision, job search techniques, and software programs.

To make the most from online (or live) lectures or presentations, ask yourself, “How can I apply this piece of information?" Mentally rehearse using the information. Some people find it helpful to write a summary of the information and its practical applications.

Practice using or applying the knowledge in your job as soon as possible.

How can I use what I learn?

Add new skills or training to your resume. Many jobseekers believe they need to have used a skill at work or learned it in a classroom to take credit for having that skill, but that’s not true. If you learn and become proficient at a skill, include it on your resume. Be prepared to show examples of your work or demonstrate your new skill.