Time is money, but knowledge is also power. In the days before the internet, someone wishing to expand his skill set would have to take time away from work or relaxation to attend a course, or gather knowledge the hard way, by working through a book on their own without being able to ask for explanations or knowing how well they really understand the material.
The situation is completely different today: for little more than the cost of a good textbook, anyone can attend a virtual course offered by video, audio and lecture notes. Lecturers are available to answer questions, progress can be checked through assignments and tests, and many courses offer bankable diplomas or academic credits.
A student can do the necessary work on their own time, although the amount of time demanded is no less than in a traditional setting. Most impressively, the number of disciplines covered is simply amazing, and a course on almost anything can be found that requires no academic prerequisites.
Core, Supplemental and Meta Knowledge
An engineer who already understands circuit design might want to know more about how next-generation components work at a molecular level; this would be an example of gaining core knowledge. A lawyer could realize that the scope of the work he takes on can be wider if he also understands accounting; this is what is meant by supplemental knowledge. On the other hand, a manager might want to study practical psychology. This is not part of his main job description, but will give him skills that can help do his work better in a way that’s difficult to quantify. Finally, there is “meta” knowledge, which is not about information as such but concerns the way in which we approach work and learning. Many professionals could benefit from improved memory, better time management or knowing how to handle stress better; all of these are meta-skills.
It is often a very good move professionally to gain a diploma in a field completely separate from what a person is most qualified in. For instance, an accountant may either choose to spend a year and thousands of dollars obtaining an advanced degree in his own field, or he could choose to familiarize himself with something as far out as petroleum geology.
Let’s say he chose the first option: instead of competing with thousands of applicants for any new job, his resume will now land in a pile only a few hundred high. He can command a higher salary, but not dramatically so when compared to the time and effort spent on gaining a master’s degree, and he will probably be expected to work harder, solve more complex problems and take on much more responsibility than before.
On the other hand, spending a few hundred hours on an introductory course in something completely unrelated will not only be much cheaper, but probably mentally easier as well. It will have no impact on his desirability or remuneration as far as his primary function is concerned, but when an opportunity arises requiring knowledge of both fields, the job is his almost automatically. When this is combined with other sought-after traits, such as fluency in a second language or experience in a certain industry, he will literally be the only man for the job.
Anyone who spends a great deal of time behind the wheel actually has heaps of time available to broaden their mind. Even without having to spend time in a classroom, virtual or otherwise, anyone can inform, entertain or educate themselves by iPhone.
Listening through a book takes much longer than reading it, but can be done simultaneously with any activity that requires little attention: jogging, driving or watching sports on TV. Someone may choose to learn more about subjects ranging from business to botany, or choose to relax with a work of fiction. While this might not sound like education, a good story can be as interesting as a conversation, and improves verbal skills like vocabulary.