You Learn

Evaluating The Effectiveness of Different Learning Mediums on Long Term Leave

We spend a significant portion of our adult lives working. Eurostat estimates the expected working life duration of EU workers in 2018 to be 36.2 years. Given such a large window, it may come as no surprise that we all need a longer break than the occasional sick day. We may take time off for travel, long term sick or parental. Irrespective of motive, we will have breaks in our employment history.

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Returning to work after a long period of travelling or parental leave can leave you feeling behind the technical curve

I Can Learn

Before delving into details, I must state the following unequivocal disclaimer. No one should feel pressure to try and learn while on leave. Organisations and managers should support colleagues irrespective of their decisions for contact or learning.

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There should be no pressure to hit the books while on a sabbatical. Supporting those who wish to learn must be balanced.

Letter in the Mail

Medium: Email | Difficulty Level: Easy

With the majority of organisations providing remote working capabilities, reading the occasional email is a quick and easy means of researching current internal trends. Personally I have found the occasional scan useful for monitoring several knowledge streams:

  • New product features
  • Technical trends and practical applications
  • Organisational updates
  • Internal initiatives
  • Team changes and events
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Email exhibits a similar hit to gambling. Beware excessive email monitoring while on leave.

Cast Your Pod to the Wind

Medium: Podcast | Difficulty Level: Easy

Until now, I’ve never been a big fan of podcasts or audio books. Music and the written word tend to be my commuting mediums of choice. But if you’re out exploring, or in my case trapped on the couch with a cuddly newborn, listening is far better. Quite simply because it frees up your hands.

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Podcasts have become a useful hands-free learning tool for me.

Keep Talking

Medium: In Person Catch Up | Difficulty Level: Medium

Extended leave can be an exceptionally isolating time. It’s imperative that you attempt to meet new people and establish new relationships while on leave. Antenatal groups and tour groups are examples of great methods of building networks on paternity leave or while travelling. Discussing your current challenges in these forums is invaluable. In the case of parental leave it can be difficult to escape baby talk for some much needed adult conversation.

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Coffee catch ups have formed a welcome learning opportunity, as well as exposure to adult conversation.

Internet Killed the Video Star

Medium: Blog Article | Difficulty Level: Medium

One aspect of my original morning routine that I have managed to preserve is my morning perusal of blog articles. With the small amendment that anything over five minutes needs to be reserved for nap time. Ironically this piece would meet the latter requirement.

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Blogs are short, sweet and instantaneous sources of information.
  1. Reddit
  2. Twitter

Read it in Books

Medium: Books | Difficulty Level: Hard

Now we are getting into the more challenging learning formats. Books require a greater level of effort and dedication than the aforementioned blog posts. The premise is certainly the same. However, the sheer length of the content makes it increasingly more likely that you will encounter interruptions.

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Curling up with a good technical book is not always possible while out exploring the world.

Video Games

Medium: Tech Tutorial | Difficulty Level: Impossible

While I’ve made attempts to try the aforementioned mediums, completing at least one tech tutorial has proven to be an elusive dream. I can imagine completing tutorials would be a powerful means of combatting concerns of falling behind the technical curve. Yet it is the most challenging mechanism with which to dedicate time. Although I successfully completed one tutorial pre-baby, post baby it has been impossible.

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Tutorials require an attempt to follow the steps to reinforce the lessons.

Learn From This Mistake

This piece serves as a reflection on my experiences of trying to maintain my learning without a regular work structure. Even the most varied of software development roles has a relatively strict workday. While on leave, you would expect a new routine to form within which learning opportunities can be integrated. In reality this is unlikely to happen within the first few months.

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Learning should complement and not dominate your time away from work. Remember to live!

Lead software engineer with a strong interest in Agile, UX and Usability. Lover of cooking, tea, photography and gin!

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