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Adult Education for IT Advancement: You Get Back What You Put In

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Adult Education for IT Career Advancement: You Get Back What You Put InAdult Education for IT Career Advancement: You Get Back What You Put In

Simply taking a class isn’t necessarily going to boost your IT career all by itself. But if you dig into the materials, do some real learning, and expend time and effort as well as money, you will find your class pays dividends!

As somebody who writes about IT careers, certification, and learning, I’m inundated with advertisements from online and physical training companies, universities, and technical schools that promise me – and anybody else who will listen – that if one simply signs up for and works through a curriculum of some kind or another, good results will follow quite naturally in their wake. It would be nice if adult education were this simple and straightforward, and progress could be achieved so easily. But that’s simply not the case.

It’s the individual effort that students expend, and the time and effort they put into learning that makes the difference. Even better, if adult learners can apply what they learn outside the narrow confines of any particular curriculum to real problems and issues in their lives and work, then that’s what gives subject matter meaning and significance beyond simple rote memorization or dry mastery of some body of fact, principles, rules, or so-called “natural law.”

I was struck quite hard by this over the weekend, when our family attended my son’s first competitive gymnastics meet at St. Edward’s University in South Central Austin. There, I watched about 80 boys aged 6 to 13 compete at two different gymnastics levels. Each boy had to learn a specific routine for six different events: floor, pommel, rings, vault, parallel bars and high (horizontal) bar. It was amazing to watch these boys compete, not just because of the things they did, but because of the wide range of talent and differences in attitude and capability that were on public display. 

Some of these boys were absolutely amazing: they turned their routines into joyful, coherent expressions of movement and emotion. Others made valiant efforts, but suffered from occasional mistakes, or lapses of judgment and control. Still other boys were simply going through the motions, without really understanding what they were doing, or how to do it properly and well.

As I watched the whole set of activities unfold, I realized that those boys who could combine talent, effort, and discipline were the ones who really excelled. Those who put more of themselves into their routines – and by extension into the months or years of practice and preparation that led up to the meet – were the ones who won the accolades and took home the medals, both for themselves and for their teams. Those who went through the motions but didn’t really invest themselves heavily into performing got to attend the meet and see other gymnasts excel. All the parents, judges, and coaches who also attended couldn’t help but notice the difference, which could occasionally be dramatic and inspiring.

The same dynamics apply to what we adults do to improve ourselves and our circumstances. For some, adult education really is a matter of life and death. Those folks usually have little trouble getting and staying motivated, and will usually succeed in altering their circumstances because they often feel like they have no choice but to succeed and thus, do whatever it takes to make that happen. For many of us, the motivation is less clear or compelling, and the results tend to follow suit. But I can tell you with absolute certainty, not just from watching a small group of gymnasts practicing three times a week for the past eight months to prepare for this meet and then watching them perform this weekend, but because of ample, direct personal experience in my 60 years on the planet, that if you put yourself out there and really work as hard as you can to extend yourself, improve your skills and knowledge, and then learn how to put them to work, you can achieve just about anything you set yourself to do.

If you’re not willing to stretch, and work, and really try not just to master some skills and knowledge, but also to put them to work and use them to their best effect, too often learning and work (and perhaps even life) consists of going through the motions: getting through the day in any way possible, without really doing much beyond the necessary to make it from waking up until falling asleep. But for those who aspire to more, and who want to make a difference in their own lives, and the lives of those around them, expending the extra effort to get from familiarity and basic understanding to real competence and deep appreciation and application of what’s being learned pays off big-time. It’s the only way to become truly proficient in something, and the first step to real mastery in self, life, and work.

If you do get involved in adult education, always remember that the more you put in, the more you’ll get back out. That’s not just in terms of grades, or degrees, or certifications earned. It’s also in terms of the impact you can have on your personal growth and development, your family, and the lives of those with whom you interact. If you’re going to learn, turn that learning into something really useful and significant. Otherwise, it will soon fade into a mere shadow of what it could otherwise be.

Ed TittelEd Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who’s worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.

E-mail Ed at with your request for IT certification or career info, or your ideas for future blogs. If your e-mail leads him to a blog topic, he’ll have the Tom’s staff send you your very own Tom’s IT Pro t-shirt! Be the envy of your friends and colleagues, and help him help you with your IT career! If you do have a request for Ed, please read his How to Help Me Help You blog posting, and answer as many of the questions this post contains as are applicable to your situation and inquiry. Thanks in advance for helping make his job easier that way!

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