Lifelong Learning Shouldn’t Stop When You Retire

Many older adults are finding that retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be. A life of leisure, shopping, golf, and playing bridge may make some seniors happy, but many others soon find that they crave more intellectual stimulation than what most retirement communities offer.

One thing that many seniors find missing in their lives is the satisfaction that comes from learning something new. After going to college and possibly continuing education classes during their working years, seniors find it difficult to have a full and satisfying life without learning being a part of it.

The Benefits of Lifelong Learning

There is no shortage of research about the positive effects of lifelong learning for seniors. One study, the Rush Memory and Aging Project in 2012, showed that cognitively active seniors were 2.6 times less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than those who were less cognitively active. The average age of seniors in the study was 80.

Professor Stephen McNair of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education said in the Guardian newspaper that lifelong learning helps seniors feel like they have a purpose in life even as they may be losing loved ones and friends that gave their lives a great deal of meaning.

Lifelong learning can also help seniors feel connected to their communities and the world at a time when isolation may set in because of health problems, moving to a retirement community or losing the ability to drive a car. Some retirement communities are even developing partnerships with local universities to offer continuing education to residents to help keep their minds sharp.

Lifelong learners are also less likely to become financially dependent on the government or others in their senior years. The more you learn about the world, the better you will be at managing your finances or coming up with ways to earn a little extra cash when you need it.

Why Learn in a Classroom?

Of course, learning doesn’t have to take place in a classroom, and many valuable things can only be learned outside the classroom; however, there are definite benefits to continuing education courses inside a classroom or in an academic setting.

Social contact. Getting older can be an isolating experience, especially when loved ones pass away before you and the daily contact you used to have with them is now gone. Taking classes can help you get some of that ongoing social contact that is so needed by anyone of any age.

Working together. In most academic coursework, even the non-credit variety, group work of some sort is required. Working as a team provides intellectual stimulation that no other learning or work can provide, which keeps different parts of your brain active than a solo activity like reading a book or doing a puzzle would do.

Feedback. Getting feedback from a teacher or your peers helps you learn more and evaluate your learning as you go, which improves the quality of that learning and makes it more challenging (in a good way). Feedback, like working with others in a group, will expose you to aspects of learning that you won’t be able to access in any other way.

CCSU is offering a Changing Aging event through the AARP and Dr. Bill Thomas on June 16 that will expose seniors to a whole new way of looking at aging and lifelong learning. Join our mailing list for updates on all our programs.

Expert Interview Series: Chad Vignola of LDC About Helping Teachers Teach Students Better

As Executive Director of LDC, Chad Vignola works tirelessly to support educators. We had a chance to talk with Chad to hear about the exciting and innovative instructional techniques and materials that can help teachers educate their students more effectively. Continue reading “Expert Interview Series: Chad Vignola of LDC About Helping Teachers Teach Students Better”

The Skills You Need to Succeed in a GIS Career

GIS professionals take raw data collected from a business, organization or other entity and make it into a format that the data collector can understand and use. GIS, or geographic information services, focuses on data from a particular geographic area, whether large or small, and represents it visually in a way that makes it easier to understand, and useful to those that need it. GIS can be used by companies to identify trends and customer behaviors, and even to make personalized text or email offers to customers based on their proximity to a retail location, as well as other uses.

In order to have a career as a GIS professional, many skills are needed. Some of these skills are technical in nature, while others are soft skills of a non-technical nature.

Technical Skills for GIS Professionals

Programming and coding skills are part of any GIS professional’s job. Programming and coding are the means by which data can be made visual for use by companies and organizations, so GIS professionals need to be proficient in at least one programming language, as well as coding languages for creating mobile data and applications.

The more proficient GIS professionals are in programming and coding, the more versatile they will be able to be in making data accessible to clients. Some organizations may be flexible about how data is presented, while others will require it to integrate with their existing systems.

Analytical skills are also important for GIS professionals so that they can understand and represent the data collected in ways that show its meaning and value. Knowing what is needed on a particular project will be critically important for GIS work. If you can’t show the relevance of the data for the organization that needs it, they are unlikely to be able to use it.

Non-technical and Soft Skills for GIS Professionals

There are many non-technical (or soft) skills that are important for GIS professionals as well. Project management skills are necessary since GIS workers often juggle multiple projects at the same time. You need to be able to get a sense of how long projects will take, what steps will be needed to complete the project, and what resources you will need, among other aspects of project management.

Whether you work with others or as a sole proprietor, you will need effective interpersonal skills to communicate with representatives of the organizations for which you are performing analysis and data visualization. If you do work with others as a team leader or an employee of a GIS company, you will also need to be able to function well in those environments.

Interpersonal skills can be difficult for some in technical fields because their focus is often on data and mathematical concepts, but people skills are the number one, most important soft skill for anyone working with other people on a daily basis. Networking is another important skill for GIS professionals who may depend on referrals and word of mouth to find projects.

To develop GIS skills and become certified in this growing specialty area, take the CCSU course in GIS certification being offered soon. You can also view our open courses to learn more about what we have to offer!

5 Reasons Kids Should Learn to Code

Computer coding is the use of programming languages to create computer programs, websites, games, and apps. Some schools in the U.S. have begun adding coding classes to their curriculums as early as the elementary grades. Teaching coding to kids has tons of benefits for them and for society as a whole. Here are some top reasons kids should learn to code.

1. Students are already tech savvy.

Today’s students have grown up with computers, smartphones, tablets, and other technologies. Most learn quickly and at a young age how to make the technology around them work for them, so a logical next step is to show them how to make it work by teaching them coding skills.

2. There is enormous and growing demand for coders.

The world needs coders to create the next generation of software, apps, and websites. The current supply of coders will not be sufficient to fill the positions that will be available in the next 10 or 20 years without an influx of new coders to meet the demand.

England and some U.S. cities like Chicago have begun to make computer programming, coding, or computer science a required subject for all students, and part of the reason for this is because of the growing demand for people who can code.

3. It will develop creativity and problem-solving skills.

Students who get involved in coding soon find that it isn’t easy to do. Things often don’t work the way you want them to, and students must find creative ways to solve coding problems. Even if students don’t eventually use their coding skills in a future career, they will use the problem-solving skills they learned through coding in whatever careers they decide to pursue.

4. It can expand their career options.

Coding is increasingly being made part of many career paths, whether it’s the author or entrepreneur who wants to build a website or app, or a department head that needs to understand coding in order to supervise staff that uses those skills. Knowing coding skills can open doors for students to move into those positions, or to build on knowledge gained as children and teens by going to college when they otherwise might not have done so.

5. It may prepare students for jobs that don’t exist today.

STEM jobs are growing faster than most other types of careers because of advances in technology—advances that increasingly depend on computer coding skills. These advances are expected to continue at exponentially faster rates, and students who can keep up with the demands of technology in areas like coding skills will only benefit by being hired more often and at higher salaries than their less technology-savvy counterparts.

CCSU’s Tech It Out summer program teaches students valuable technology skills like coding and programming to help them get a head start on a technical career or just fulfill their curiosity about how coding works and is used in so many of the things we do. Join our mailing list for more information about all our programs.

Want to Get Ahead at Work? Start Here

If you have goals and plans for your life, chances are that they include getting ahead at work — getting a promotion, taking on more responsibilities, or advancing in some other way. While some aspects of getting ahead at work may be more difficult to control, there is still a lot you can do to set up the conditions for advancement.

Look at the Big Picture

Many professional jobs involve many small daily tasks. However, when jobs become overwhelming, or you feel like the work never gets done, it helps to look at the big picture and see if you can find solutions that will make smaller tasks more manageable or resolve the daily problems that arise and take up so much of your time.

Instead of dealing with the fallout of poor organization on a daily basis, for example, you can make a plan to organize yourself better and save a lot of time that you can allot to other priorities. Looking at the big picture always helps you to realize and remember what is important to accomplish so that you can focus more on those things.

Developing Self-Confidence

If you doubt your ability to succeed at your job, you will have a difficult time moving forward and finding ways to advance in your career. You can begin to develop self-confidence by focusing on your strengths instead of your weaknesses and by looking at improvements and progress rather than having an expectation of perfection or instant success.

Working with a mentor or career coach who will encourage you and help you find ways to build on your strengths is another way to develop self-confidence. If you suffer from extremely low self-esteem, getting some counseling may help you get to the root of the issue so you can move forward in a healthier way.

Keeping a Positive Attitude

Supervisors will not look to promote employees who complain about their jobs often or display a negative attitude in the workplace. Even if you have legitimate reasons to complain or be negative, you can learn to phrase your complaints in constructive and positive ways that may get supervisors to listen to your concerns (which complaining usually doesn’t do).

Instead of saying, “It’s not fair that . . .”, you can say “It might work better if . . .” There is always a more positive and constructive way to express something, and supervisors respond far better to someone who has thought through a concern and its implications for everyone in the workplace, rather than just for yourself.

Learning New Skills

Sometimes you just can’t get where you want at work without learning new skills. Even if you may be reluctant to go to a class after work or on a Saturday, think of all the great things you’ll learn! It will help you get that promotion or get your supervisor to take notice that you know what you’re doing.

CCSU offers many continuing education courses that teach valuable skills, and many of them even lead to certifications that employers will take into consideration as they decide who to promote or put into leadership positions.  Join our mailing list to see everything we have to offer.

Expert Interview Series: Betsy Idilbi of Tech Talent South on Growing Your Tech Skills

Betsy Idilbi is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tech Talent South, a tech education company that is fueling the need for tech talent through immersive courses and empowering people on a mission to Do Something BIG!

We recently asked Betsy for her insight on the importance of continuing education and the value of tech skills. Here’s what she shared:

Tell us about the mission of Tech Talent South. How are you hoping to help aspiring developers?

Tech Talent South (TTS) is fueling the need for skilled human capital in the tech industry by offering accessible and inclusive training programs. We aim to be as flexible as possible to lower the barriers to learning how to code for anyone who wishes to have the skills. Our code immersion and topical courses are designed for aspiring developers to build a custom track that fits their passions.

What are the challenges facing aspiring programmers when trying to grow their skills today?

The main challenge is not unlike most endeavors: Time. Learning to code is learning a new language, and it is a field where one will never be without bugs, blocks and new things to learn. Devoting the time to becoming proficient in a new language is no small task. A more specific challenge is that a lot of students come in totally unsure if this is right for them. It takes some time to get past the learning curve and decide if this is something you really enjoy doing! We do our best to encourage students not to give up before getting around this first learning curve.

What do these students need to know about finding high-quality courses?

A big quality indicator for TTS is the ability for students to get one-on-one time with an instructor, TA or fellow student. Even when sitting in the same class, everyone can end up with code that looks different. Having the ability to ask questions and figure out bugs one-on-one with an actual human can be a game changer. With technology and coding, the best thing that we can do is teach students the best ways to analyze the code and discover solutions on their own. We can model this through mentors and industry professionals that have found a problem-solving rhythm that works for them.

What do students need to know about succeeding in these types of courses? What are the dos and don’ts?

The age old golden rule of school: Do your homework! Our most successful students are the individuals who go home after class and re-do all of the exercises that they did in class. At TTS, we are known for some pretty intense homework. This is not only a good way to learn, but also a good litmus test to find out how much you enjoy working with code!

What types of courses are you finding are most in demand right now? What types of courses should those interested in tech careers be pursuing?

We always recommend starting with the basics of programming. This foundation is such a good platform for anyone doing tech related work. Our eight-week code immersion program gives this foundation. We then have additional courses depending on a student’s passion. We see a lot of opportunity in the Machine Learning, Big Data Analytics and Internet of Things space.  We have developed curriculum to provide students the skills to innovate in these spaces, but we always recommend that code immersion foundation first.

What types of jobs have your graduates gone on to find? How has the training they received helped grow their careers?

We have graduates who have found their passion and have gone on to become senior, full stack engineers.  We also know a lot of former students that are now front end and app developers as well as a large portion of grads are successful entrepreneurs who have launched their own dreams. Another category of alumni worth mentioning is all of the folks who didn’t end up in development careers, but attribute their success to code immersion. These are people working in marketing/digital advertising, design, and customer support roles for tech companies.

What are the benefits to professionals to continuing their education? How can training help grow their careers?

If you want to help a company grow, it just makes sense that you would start with growing the set of skills that you can contribute. The more you are leaning into solving new problems that you haven’t seen before, the more valuable you are making yourself as an asset to a company.

Why is training on tech skills so critical to success in business today?

Technology is changing so fast that it is becoming impossible to keep up without some sort of focus on training (or at the very least self-teaching.) It isn’t just a thing for the “tech industry” either. The way that we use tech every day, regardless of industry, changes so much from year to year that in order to make a difference in business you have to keep up.

Learn about the continuing education opportunities available from CCSU. View open courses.

CCSU Instructor Interview Series: Mike Harrison

Mike Harrison is an instructor for the newly-added Waveform Warriors course for Central Connecticut State University’s (CCSU) Summer Technical Youth Program, Tech It Out. He has been involved with the program for two years. In his Waveform Warriors course, Mr. Harrison will be teaching students about electronic music production, composition, and sound design. In 2016, Mr. Harrison was also an assistant instructor for Tech It Out’s ParaDYM Academy course. Through this course, he helped program participants explore digital media production, creating two PSA campaigns, one against drunk driving and one against bullying. Instructors and students teamed up to create a PSA for the cause, code a short video game to go with it, and compose all original music.

In addition to his experience with Tech It Out, Mr. Harrison also founded Torches Music Academy, which is a free community program for the youth in New Britain to explore and learn music production. He believes that a huge shortcoming in the way we teach music is that we leave out a lot of practical application for the present time. His mission is to help children fill some of these gaps that he struggled with growing up, and give the youth a safe, friendly environment to explore modern music and sound. Mr. Harrison is currently a freelance music producer/composer as well. He composes instrumentals and songs for artists, films, video games, and commercial campaigns.

Mr. Harrison was also a student in CCSU’s music education program. He feels that his time at CCSU helped to strengthen his skills in music theory, ear training, history, and more traditional applications of classical and jazz. Although his focus in recent years has been more electronic/modern music, he realizes and very much appreciates what invaluable information he attained from CCSU. Mr. Harrison says, “Although the sounds, methods, and genres may be very different, at the core of it all still lies fundamental music theory and comp. CCSU did a great job nurturing my ear for music, allowing me to do what I do today.”

His experience with CCSU’s Continuing Education program has also been overwhelmingly positive. Mr. Harrison says, “I can’t tell you how much I love what Continuing Education is doing; I think it’s so important to let the youth explore different mediums of learning to find what inspires them. Technology evolves so quickly; it’s crucial that it is not foreign to them. We can do our part by giving them the resources and the instruction the best we can to help them find success and passion. I am thrilled and honored to work with Continuing Education and CCSU, in that I believe we share these visions.”

For more information on the summer technical programs, contact Christa Sterling at 860-832-2277 or CSterling@ccsu.edu.