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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back to School at 60 ... Reflections from an Adult Learner

God bless our local community college for being there, for being where they are, and for letting us go for free after we turn 60! And God bless my friend Julie for letting me know!

Twelve years ago I made the decision to follow the traditional route of educational progress and pursue a master's degree - for two reasons mainly. First, I had already earned two undergraduate degrees (a B.S. in Speech Education and an A.A.S. in Computer Programming Technology) and being from a family-full of postgraduates as well as having worked eight years in a research lab, I was very curious about the postgraduate experience. And second, I wanted to find a way to tie my two undergraduate degrees together. So I enrolled in a masters program in Educational Technology with a concentration in Instructional Design. I figured it was all win-win. I would wed two fields together and opportunity would follow.

But I suspected even then that I was merely postponing the inevitable - that the rapid pace of technological change had reversed the course of traditional educational progress - that until such time as society recognized and acknowledged this dilemma and came up with some viable and affordable solutions, many of us were destined to keep going back to ground zero at our local or online universities and colleges as the most practical way to keep up with our field, when for one reason or another our work began more and more to not afford us that opportunity (and employers more and more came to discard us like yesterday's trash -  or should I say desktop).

I have to wonder  how many of the women who went through school in computer programming technology in the 1990's are still in that field (I know some who aren't).  But, personally I am a technology die-hard. So I have accepted that I need to keep going back to school, to take courses that were primarily designed for degree programs I had already been through, that were building the basic infrastructure I already intimately knew for the uninitiated. Not that a periodic review hurts  - at all! And don't get me wrong - I LOVE learning about and using cool new stuff and participating in the evolution of the desktop revolution. I have certainly bought books and gone through tutorials to self-educate since I finished my last degree -sometimes inbetween inspections whilst sitting on a factory line! I'm just saying that it was confusing twelve years ago at age 50 to have to make the choice between taking yet more undergraduate courses or pursuing an advanced degree at institutions who had courted me to do so.

All this leads up to this spring when after a year of being unemployed once again, I finally stopped postponing the inevitable and turned to my local community college where I'd heard that individuals 60 and over could attend for free. I had celebrated my 60th birthday in May. I have to say the college's advisors were remarkably and wonderfully understanding, encouraging, supportive, welcoming, and most of all, helpful. I talked to one generalist who then directed me to two department heads, one in Information Technology and the other in Graphics Technology - and after speaking with each of them I walked away with a clear sense of direction and purpose. See, it didn't make sense to pursue yet another undergraduate degree in the technology field. However, back when I did my degree work, certifications weren't that common. Now every employer is asking for a list of certifications, and many of the courses in the various programs prepare students to take certification exams. Ivy Tech's advisors helped me lay out a clear plan of action for pursuing certifications in my various areas of interest - whilst obtaining training with current and in-demand products previous jobs had not afforded me opportunity to use or learn.

Not that this entirely eliminates the tug of opportunity costs - my various areas of interest in the technology field are numerous. They include design, programming, graphics, and web-based technologies - and I'm not afraid to branch out to networking and technical writing and support. So the narrowing down process will continue as I wend my way through these certification strategies.

Although I was itching to get started and to take advantage of the extra time I had available for who-knew-only-how-long, many of  the courses I wanted weren't offered til the fall semester. So I jumped into a programming logic course in summer school, mainly to review, and to hopefully get into some newer topics that would not have been covered in previous formal coursework. I also hopped programs and took an online course from the Office Administration Program because it offered an opportunity for MCAS/MOS certification in Excel 2007. So at the end of the summer, I could walk away with at least one certification.

Now it is August and I am finished - and I have one certification down - Yea!

 Of course I can't help but reflect back over my summer school experience in light of my Instructional Design training and I will probably offer some thoughtful analysis and observations, probably in a series of articles. So, as they say, stay tuned ...


related articles:

On Dentists and Technology Obsolescense

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