I see education as a two way street with many stops along the journey. What I put into it, I get out of it. Over the years I have found different ways to learn, many of them outside the four walls of an academic institution.
That being said, I am extremely grateful for the two decades I spent in school at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary level. Those twenty years were a blessing, and I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity.
Of course the reality is that despite the fact that we can learn anywhere, there is still a large part of our global population that does not have the means or the access.
Keeping with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have reached Goal 4: Quality Education. There are many targets that are set to support this goal, ten to be exact. They are broad and cover a wide range of important issues and concerns.
Today, I am going to focus on Goal 4.4 from the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform:
“By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.”
I pick this target specifically because I believe it connects nicely with the notion that we can learn anywhere. Whether it is through apprenticeships, volunteer opportunities, summer jobs, reading a book, taking an online course, or participating in continuous learning in the work place, opportunities for building skills are out there, just waiting to be grabbed.
However, what will give this target great leverage is collaboration. Systems need to be in place to make these opportunities appear. These systems do not need to be overly complex, they simply need to exist and be sustained.
As a lifelong learner with a thirst for knowledge and a dislike for debt, I have opted out of returning to university for my masters a handful of times. There have been many occasions where I have seriously considered completing additional post-graduate work in order to advance in one of my areas of interest.
However, without an exact thesis in mind or a specific job attached to that requirement, every time I’ve considered it – or perhaps even began filling out the application – I held back. It’s not that I didn’t see value in pursuing my formal academic experience further; it’s that I also saw value in pursuing an outside the box experience and education.
This has been going on for ten years now, and I still have so much to learn. At times, I get distracted. I stop and smell the roses of a new topic or theme. Sometimes I fall down a rabbit hole only to realize a week has gone by and I’m headed in a whole new direction.
If any of this sounds familiar, and you are at the point where you want to get schooled on something you are passionate about – but you can’t financially afford to do so at this time – here are four of my favorite ways to gain knowledge and skills on a shoestring budget.
#1: Lessons from nature
Ecosystems hold a wealth of knowledge. By observing nature we can learn so much about production, consumption, and waste. We learn about growth, cessation, cycles, and patience. Take a look at this video about biomimicry and in about two minutes you will see what I mean.
This reinforces the importance of conservation and restoration of the natural habitats that cover the earth. When we lose a forest, we lose information systems. When a wetland is destroyed, there goes centuries of wisdom.
#2: Invest in books
Reading books has become an important part of my daily life. I first registered biomimicry for example when I read about it in The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. Learning on my own is a lot easier when I can study the ideas and theories of great thinkers and doers. Authors share a lifetime of knowledge and experience on a few hundred pages of paper, and as their words jump off the page a light bulb goes off in the student’s mind.
Whether you buy a book or borrow it, there is a great opportunity here to tap into a network of know how written by those that have walked this road before and can share details from the front lines.
#3: Online learning
I’ve only been learning this way for about two years, but in this time I have gained so much. Some of the courses I take online are free; others have a small fee attached to them. Some offer a certificate upon completion, others just leave you with the satisfaction and new found knowledge.
While the internet may not be accessible everywhere, the web of information that it holds can be tapped into from any corner of the earth and brought back into remote communities. A teacher can learn online, and then share this knowledge with students along the way. The more you share knowledge, the more you gain wisdom and insight.
#4: Learn by doing
This can be one of the funnest ways to learn. If you are interested in something, I highly recommend you try your hand at it. I’ve always wanted to play the guitar, so this summer, I picked up the guitar and started to teach myself chords. I get a little bit better every day by picking up the guitar and going for it.
If you can pair up with a teacher, mentor, or coach from your community to teach you the tricks of the trade, all the better. You can reciprocate by volunteering on a project with them. This will likely reinforce what you have learned, bring your skills to the next level, and maybe even give you the opportunity to pass along what you have come to know.
You might also find an opportunity by taking on a job that may not have a high pay, but teaches you a new skill. Job training is a form of education and it is transferable throughout your career.
“It is not so much about what life hands you, but what you do with what you get.”
~ Idowu Koyenikan
While the need for quality education goes far beyond what I have discussed, these shoestring budget ideas will help to alleviate some of the pressure. If we are going to achieve the SDGs globally, we need to address learning and education on a variety of levels, and from many different angles. Formal education has numerous benefits, but autonomous learning offers endless possibilities.
I’d love to hear what you think about this topic & learn about initiatives in your community. Please feel free to comment below or on Twitter.