The balance in life depends on a multitude of factors, and the weighting of factors vary for everyone. Over time, I have realized that learning is one of the most influential factors in maintaining balance in my life.
The opportunity to learn is one of the key factors I look for in a job, it becomes an essential part of my job satisfaction. I have noticed a pattern that if my job related learning slows down slightly, I tend to find new areas to explore. Consequently, ten years ago, I took a course in yacht navigation without any plans to become a skipper or a navigator - but the subject matter was fascinating.
There has never been a better time in terms of opportunity for learning. The main vector, of course, is the internet and its ability to reduce the costs of access to relevant content and building connections to the relevant people.
Recently, I have explored three different types of avenues to learning. All of them are dependent on the internet to achieve and accelerate the learning.
The most structured avenue was completing a university course that was taught via the internet. This is also known as a MOOC, a Massively Open Online Course. The MOOC i joined was a course in Gamification at Penn, channeled via Coursera, an internet education platform. The course was thought via lectures recorded on video, weekly tests or written assignments, and peer review of contributions. The peer review aspect was one of most powerful new learning approaches I have recently come across. For every paper I submitted, I had the opportunity to review five or more papers from my fellow students (of which there were some 78,000). Seeing how others had approached the problem gave me a high level of insight into alternative approaches and good opportunity for reflecting on my own work.
A completely different type of learning has come from my decision to buy and fly a small quadcopter drone. Given my interest in new technology and photography, buying a drone was the realization of a pressing dream. Starting a blog on my experiences with and ideas about civilian use of drones was a natural decision as a drive towards increased learning. (See elevation.2)
The final learning vector I wanted to mention is more ad hoc: I installed an app on my phone to help me learn Spanish. (Sí, estoy aprendiendo a hablar español.) Duolingo is a free app offering a growing list of language courses. I find it very well designed and I love the business model. The app is free because an algorithm sneaks in sentences to be translated for clients that pay Duolingo for translation, a clever crowdsourcing business model. It is interesting to note that the app teaches you listening, speaking, reading and writing - all at the same time. I am progressing slowly (even though the app is nagging me politely to spend a bit of time every day), but detected some basic improvements on a recent trip to Mexico.
What's next? I am going to enroll in another MOOC, perhaps Financial Markets or an introduction to genetics. I find 3D printing fascinating and may start printing mods for my drone using this technology. And I am going to use Duolingo more often. ¡Vamos!