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Always Learning

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.  

By Stephanie M. Moore
September 26, 2014

I was a non-traditional student for the majority of my adult life. I was always working a traditional full time job during the day and attending college classes in the evening. I was working 40 hours a week in addition to fulfilling the academic requirements of a graduate student. I discovered that working hard toward a graduate degree is much more rewarding when your academia field and your career field is in line with your passion path.

In a perfect world your academic journey and your career journey would be a natural extension of your passion path. When these paths meet the resulting output is energized and the pure passion shows through.

Moore sept

The ability to recognize that your day job is an extension of the classroom is a unique learning opportunity. Thinking of your job as the classroom lab is a great way to enhance and expand the learning experience. When the lab and classroom experiences meld, the results are very rewarding and motivating. The reward is a win-win-win.

First, your classmates share in your firsthand knowledge: win. Your colleagues and your workplace are able to take advantage of the most up to date theories and research on the subject; win. And you, the student, win by optimizing the best of both worlds to benefit, complement and enhance each other.

The workplace and classroom both act as places of learning. Knowledge is abundant and readily available to the keen learner, in both settings. The classroom is generally more current on research, data and theory. This up to date knowledge is helpful, as staying current on the most recent advances in your career field is a constant challenge.

In the classroom, the knowledge, research and exchange of information are abundant and flow easily. Leaving academia on graduation day does not have to mean an end to the flow of knowledge. There are still options to learn firsthand after graduation day. I am a lifelong learner and when I graduated I sought out permission to continue to utilize the university library and related online resources. Google Scholar is available online all the time, for anyone who is seeking scholarly level resources and knowledge.

Firsthand learning in the workplace means seeking out and recognizing opportunities to learn and to teach. It is important to utilize the institutional knowledge that surrounds you in the seasoned professionals. Take full advantage of this knowledge. Knowledge sharing is a concurrent transaction, share and meld your academic knowledge with the institutional knowledge. People who have the institutional knowledge need to let the information flow freely and understand that this flow of knowledge is not a release of power or position, but a way to keep the agency salient. Both institutional and academic types of knowledge can and need to work in unison to complement each other. When this unison of knowledge occurs, everyone benefits.

Your academic insights and efficiencies may not always be appreciated by everyone. We have all heard the phrase, “We have always done it this way.” Enough time has probably lapsed that technology or research has provided a more efficient way of carrying out the task. The ability to introduce a new technique may take some finesse and coaxing, but the end result will hopefully be a more efficient and easy process. The ability to offer and teach new techniques can also be helpful for the entire agency. People will begin to feel more confident in offering new ideas, solutions and techniques.

However, the workplace differs from the classroom. There are generally trade specific rules, regulations, laws, ordinances, requirements and jargon that govern your every move. These very specific rules of the game are generally not discussed in-depth in the classroom setting. However, these trade specific guidelines can offer guidance on how to run the program and how to problem solve. I picked up a good tool to help problem solve: What is the problem? What is the policy/procedure? What is the practice? What is the proposed solution? Asking these questions can help a team or individual break down a larger problem into easier to answer questions.

Another way to continue to learn and stay relevant in your field is membership and trade associations. Seeking membership in related fields is also a good idea. As fields tend to be connected and symbiotic, you may even discover a new passion or career. Taking advantage of online publications and newsletters are excellent ways to keep abreast of current changes and advances in your field.

Even if you are out of school, or between degrees, learning never ends. Learning is realizing that you can use your workplace and your life as an opportunity to grow. Learning is gaining and strengthening knowledge. Learning is teaching. Learning is life.

I am a self-proclaimed life-long learner. It is even one of my top five strengths. The more we learn the more we improve not only ourselves, but our agencies, our communities, our world.

As you move out of academia into the workplace and leave the classroom behind to learn firsthand, realize that learning is not something that ends. Learning is something that is constant. Every situation, challenge and opportunity offers you a chance to learn; be a passionate steward of that knowledge.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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