Whenever I discuss education, I usually begin with a big sigh. It can be a very tough and complex issue to discuss. There are many proponents of the time honored approach of brick and mortar buildings synonymous with academia, while there are just as many who champion alternative but still viable routes such as online colleges. In between these camps are a myriad of options that are accessible and are of varying cost and quality. For designers, it’s important to find the fit to continue your education.

When I say continuing education for designers, I am referring to those professionals who have been working for at least over a year in the industry. With the rapid pace of technology, product and media offerings we need to be try to keep pace with those elements we work on. There has been an explosion of terms, titles and jargon in our industry and I had to learn and understand recently. I didn’t realize how much bleed over there was between interaction design and web design, or visual design and user interface design, and creative project management and art direction. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a clear-cut definition of roles for these disciplines. Someone will argue with me that there are clear definitions but many also forget that not everywhere is the role/title/capabilities going to be used in a consistent manner. Many of my colleagues call themselves web designers, but much of what they do is user experience and user interface work. A number of colleagues work primarily with print, but they concern themselves with paper stock, print processes and flow of information that is easily just as viable as user experience design. With that all said, if you are up on what is going on in the design industry, it’s very easy to get left behind.

In regards to education, what options do you have available? What makes the most sense? What is the most economic choice? What will make the most impact in my career? What can I do without sacrificing too much of my schedule and routine?

In the past, I have written about education in general. It’s still a mess. Academia is an institution, but it’s not a bad institution. It’s the people who make up that institution that who can make it great or terrible. For most, the cost-benefit analysis of a traditional college work doesn’t benefit individuals as much as they would hope. Students can incur massive amounts of debt and for most, colleges and universities cause significant disruption in the lives of working professionals. Because of the waning benefits traditional education routes offered for designers and other creative professionals, the rise of massive open online colleges (MOOC’s) and digital training platforms have become firmly entrenched in the world today.

MOOC’s offer a similar experience to online college classes and in many ways is no different from them, except in regards to accreditation. Accreditation is a huge component for some depending if they want to go into academia itself and teach. Certain careers require a degree as part of requirements for consideration. For some design professional, those routes are attractive and are willing to make the necessary life changes to pursue an academic path. For those who have little to no interest in the academic path, MOOC’s can offer a well-rounded and pointed education that matters to the student.

Another option is online training course subscription. I have often extolled my undying love for Lynda.com, Pluralsight and Team Treehouse. They just make everything easy by serving up quality learning modules and classes that are designed to be intuitive and on-demand. For many designers, this where the majority of us will spend time to research the best options. The subscription cost is fairly low and the access to the library of courses is amazing. A great element to these courses is the ability to share your certificates of completion to show employers and potential employers just how valuable you are. A smart company will realize the potential of these online course libraries and will budget them in as professional development, which you can then access and build your skill set on the company plan.

Then there are boot camps. Boot camps can operate like a blend of academia where you will physically attend a classroom type setting, but for very short and very focused and intense training. They aren’t accredited and can be very expensive, but the payout can be huge if you can leverage what you would learn. Udacity recently started offering what they call “Nanodegrees”. Nanodegrees work very similar to boot camps and online training courses. While the costs for entry are a bit steeper, the expectations are also more demanding from the students and the course providers. Students are motivated to complete the coursework to open new, real and immediate opportunities for themselves while course providers are held to very high quality standard to make sure they are goals are achieved with the classes they offer. That’s a novel idea, to hold course providers accountable to the quality of their courses direct impact they have on their students.

Last but not least, academia isn’t all that terrible when it comes to continuing education. Certificate courses offered at community colleges either online or on campus are also worth considering. Night courses at community colleges tend to have three types of people. Those who have no history in the industry and are looking to move careers, those who have industry history and are looking to development new skills and those who are traditional college students who need to take evening classes. Depending on your mix, you could have a really great group of individuals to bounce ideas off of and learn together with…or not.

In conclusion, there never have been so many opportunities for designers and other creative professionals to continue their education so easily. I continue to learn new skills each day, even if I can only carve out an hour at a time, it’s important to grow in this industry. Complancey is poison.