Sneaky ways to fit professional development into a busy schedule

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There are only so many hours in the day, and balancing family and work takes up most of them. Yet as time-starved as we may be, many Canadians aspire to be lifelong learners. This is evident in the results of a new survey on the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2014, where “learning something new” sits near the top of our national to-do lists. Continuous self-improvement and professional development sound like great ideas. But how to find the time? Is there such as thing as being too busy to learn?

Gadgets to the rescue, for agile learning

Mobile learning may provide the answer. Today more Canadians use internet-ready smartphones than ever before (83 per cent according to StatsCan). Tablets are flying off the shelves and into our living rooms and bedrooms (according to Motorola‘s latest Media Use report). With this mainstream portable gadget adoption comes many incentives for developers to create educational apps. But iTunes and Google Play are so bloated with learning games for kids, it’s difficult to discover great apps for adults learners. For busy professionals looking to squeeze some informal learning or digital upskilling into an already overfull day, consider these mobile-ready business education options:

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  • Read: Since brevity counts, try Harvard Business Review‘s HBR Today app full of executive summaries and abstracts of the latest business and leadership strategy research. Likewise, the Blinkist app presents its “cliff notes for business books,” each readable in 15 minutes or less.
  • Watch: The TED talks app lets you choose video content by subject and duration (including talks under 3 minutes), and comes with push notification reminders so you won’t forget to watch and learn. Coursera’s app is stocked with over 200 smartphone-ready university video classes in 50 subject areas. If it’s your math or software skills that need work, the Khan Academy or for thousands of video tutorials short enough to complete on your coffee break.
  • Listen: Grab your headphones for the Knowledge@Wharton or Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders lecture podcast series — the latter conveniently divided into 2 and 3-minute audio morsels (coursels?).

Motivational feedback, for learning that sticks

When it comes to educational apps on our phones — they’re competing for our attention with all the entertainment, news, and social networking apps we’ve downloaded. This explains why almost a quarter of installed smartphone apps are only used once (if at all), then forgotten or deleted. So what’s the key to educational apps that stick? Turn out it’s all about feedback.

A new study from The Open University and Serious Games Institute in the UK confirmed that apps with “progress indicators” are highly motivational and encourage long term engagement. Design details make the difference: it might be a chime indicating you met a daily goal, a digital badge, a virtual bookshelf stocked with videos watched and books read, or the ability to easily share content with Facebook or Twitter. If you choose apps with these types of feedback loops to track and communicate your progress, research suggests they’re most likely to capture your attention and support your professional development efforts in the long run.


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