Arguably, never before in human history did we have access to so much knowledge and information. Never before could anyone decide to learn and have a fair go at success, regardless of their financial standing. While affordability will always play a part when it comes to choices we can make about getting a formal education, if learning is at the core of the reason why we study in the first place then money today is a lesser obstacle than it used to be. At the same time, some of the very reasons we can do all these things today have also enabled us to procrastinate and waste time like never before. The mere access to knowledge and information does not mean we are automatically better for it. The Internet, mobile phones and social networking can be seen as enabling tools, but what and how much we do with them in our lives still depends on us.
Admittedly, there is a lot of money involved in the higher education business. If we are not able to afford the costs of going to college, we can have a perfect excuse for not pursuing a degree. But the seeming eternal love affair between education and money in our minds need not deter us from growth and following our dreams. Education is no longer limited to the traditional paths of studying. Depending on where in the world we are, we will have different options available. Increasingly, there are new opportunites for learning made possible globally by the modern technology. The free online education platforms like edX and Coursera offer more oppportunities to everyone with an Internet connection to study subjects from leading universities from around the world. Although these learning platforms, called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) do not lead to award of degrees, they can be useful for preparing ourselves to study proper, or simply to learn the subject matters we are interested in. Likewise, online degrees and distance education have been growing at a steady pace. Although technology alone can never motivate us to accomplish anything without our belief in ourselves, it can make a difference where access to education for financial or other reasons is difficult.
More and more people can access the Internet and have a mobile phone. In addition to communicating, this allows us to engage with others in learning. A press release from May 2014 by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations’ agency for information and communication technologies, suggested that by the end of 2014 44% of households in the world would have access to the Internet; by the same time, there was to be almost seven billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world. That is as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are people on the earth. Furthermore, the same ITU release predicted that mobile phones will have reached 69% of people in Africa and 89% in Asia and the Pacific. The latter figures fly in the face of the stereotypical argument that only the Western world is privy to the fruits of technological advancements. While the developing world may be behind, it is catching up fast. In fact, the ITU figures project double-digit growth of Internet access in Africa. Even if we take into account the lack of penetration of Internet in the developing countries, we cannot deny that in this day and age more people can do more than ever before in order to learn. Again, being able to do more in itself is not a guarantee we will be satisfied with our efforts. A sense of fulfilment for one, as well as the belief that gives a meaning to our actions may tip the scales towards our being satisfied with what we do.
Finally, the rise in Internet availability, mobile phone use and social networking may lead to addictive behaviours. When we are not in control of what we do, we can have a debilitating feeling that we have wasted our time. There have been numerous studies on the so called Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD), which point to the negative effects of using these technologies. Nevertheless, IAD should not deter us from using these tools. Rather than going to extremes, whether it comes to giving up on formal learning for a lack of money, or abstaining from using Facebook or Twitter for some fear that we may become social networking addicts, we can look at what we want to achieve and see how what is available to us now can help us get there. We can channel our beliefs and wishes into actual doing and achieveing what we want, with whom we want, when we want, from almost anywhere in the world. The only thing standing in the way is our lack of belief that we can do it, which in turn can feed our lack of resolve to act.
Therefore, we ought to cultivate our belief in ourselves. Our education starts by learning about ourselves. And for that we have an opportunity every minute of every day. As 2015 begins, let us remember that for every year we have notched up, instead of laments for bygone opportunities, we can take stock of all the good we have accumulated in the form of experiences and challenges we have overcome. It is all part of our stories. Fretting about not having done enough so far may motivate us into action. But better than acting out of frustration, seeing our lives as a work in progress will take us where we want to be without the pain of chastising ourselves. Take Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander book series, as an example. Diana knew since she was eight that she would become a novelist, but she took a detour of 36 years before she started writing her first Outlander book. In Diana’s words, she began writing to “learn what it took to write a novel“. Whether where we are is where we want to be, or we yearn to become someone we have always known we have the potential to be, starting by believing that we are our best teachers will help us take that leap forward into learning. And acting.