Lifelong learning is essential for small business owners in order to stay on top of new developments in your industry, the latest marketing trends, and advances in technology.
The number of options are seemingly endless, which means you can choose those that best suit your budget, your schedule, and your learning style.
There are probably hundreds of teleclasses taking place every week on various subjects. Many of these are free, but in my experience, you don’t tend to get a ton of information at those. The main purpose of most of them is to get you interested enough in the subject to buy a product or register in a paid program. However, if you can spare the time and have a good long distance plan, they can still be worthwhile, even if you only pick up one or two tips.
In a lot of cases, you will receive a recording of the session, especially in the case of paid classes. This is very helpful as you can listen to it even if you’re not available when the session is held or if a one-hour long distance call is an issue. Having a recording also means you can review the information again as often as you like.
I’m not a big fan of teleclasses myself. As a visual learner, I need something to look at, whether it’s a speaker, a PowerPoint presentation, or a handout package. It’s very difficult for me to just sit and listen to someone talk for a whole hour. I have a ton of teleclass recordings saved on my computer which I just haven’t got around to listening to. I’ve thought about burning some to CDs so I can listen to them while driving or buying an iPod so I can listen while I’m out walking, but so far thinking about it is as far as I’ve got.
I would choose a webinar over a teleclass any time. For starters, they provide the visual aids which are lacking with most teleclasses. Secondly, there is often an opportunity to network with the other participants before, after, and sometimes even during the sessions. As an introvert, I find online networking much easier than face-to-face, though I’ve met some introverts who experience the opposite, because they find it difficult to connect with people they can’t actually see.
Webinars have the added benefit of not having to pay long distance charges or tie up your telephone line and, similar to teleclasses, you often have access to the sessions afterwards.
Many people find it easier to learn in a traditional setting. Because they have to go somewhere to attend, they are less likely to be distracted by home or work activities. With live sessions, you also have the benefit of interacting with the other people in your class.
On the downside, you have to be there at a specific time and place. You have to go there, even if the weather is unpleasant and you’d rather stay in. If it conflicts with another activity, you have to make a choice – you can’t usually opt to listen to the recording later on.
Over the last few years I’ve noticed a growing trend of multi-day online events, such as the 5th Annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention (OIVAC) next month. I’ve taken part in OIVAC several times and have always been impressed with the wide range of speakers and topics as well as the many opportunities to network with my industry colleagues.
Another such event is the Social Media Success Summit 2010 which I am attending. The information is very relevant to my business and something I’ll be able to use both to promote my own business and to support my clients, and I find that I get the most out of a learning activity when I can apply the information right away.
Many of my colleagues in the VA industry are currently attending the 9th Annual Live VA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. At the same time, the 22nd NAPO Annual Conference and Organizing Exposition is being held in Columbus, Ohio. Live conferences are probably one of the best venues for both learning and networking. There’s just nothing like spending entire days hearing expert speakers in the company of like-minded professionals! Unfortunately, they can be quite costly, especially by the time you add up registration fees, travel expenses, accommodation, spending money, and loss of billable hours. You can reduce your costs by staying with friends or family, if you’re fortunate enough to know someone in the area, but you may then miss out on chances to build camaraderie with your colleagues, as much of the best networking takes place outside of scheduled activities.
For those of us who are introverts, there’s another cost to live conferences, and that is personal energy. Being surrounded by people and activity all day can be exhausting, especially when it goes on for several days. That’s another good reason to stay on site if you can, so you can retreat to your room when you need a break from it all. You will probably also need some extra time to recharge your batteries after you get home, before returning to your regular routine.
This is not a comprehensive list of learning options – there are also self-study programs, webinars-on-demand, and other alternatives. What you choose will depend not only on your personal preferences but on your learning goals. Do you need to learn a skill so you can complete a specific project? Do you want to grow your expertise in a particular area so you can increase your income potential? Do you want to work towards a degree or certification? All of these factors should be taken into consideration before deciding where to invest your training dollars.
What type of learning activities do you prefer, and why?