New Year Resolutions: How to learn a new skill in the next 12 months aka my MA replacement idea

Whether you need a whip over your head to learn, or you’re organised enough to study on your own, you won’t find it difficult to learn something new in the coming year. And you’re perfectly capable of learning the skills you want to gain at your own pace – learning is much more friendly in the digital age if you can cut through the noise, and have enough motivation and curiosity to lead yourself ahead.

how to learn a new skill your own ma degree

It all started a few months ago, when I painfully realised that I can’t continue my education on an MA level (an idea which I was obsessed with for a couple of months before getting my bachelor’s degree) – being as broke as a student can be, I couldn’t afford the initial deposit before I could take a loan to study. I got an offer from a fantastic uni, but my circumstances stood in the way of the accomplishment… Determined to make things right, I decided I will try my best to learn and save to fight for a place next September, and stubbornly repeated to myself I can acquire as many practical skills as possible over time.

Here’s what I am doing – and I hope you can adapt this for yourself. Led by endless curiosity and hope to make things better, I’m learning all the time to tick things off the list – and although the conservatives will tell you that sticking to traditional methods of learning might be the most effective, if you can figure out what works for you, nothing can really stop you. Passion is everything, my dear, and it will drive you ahead – just work hard, stick it out and commit.

So I looked at these online courses…

That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? With the rise of such websites as Lynda, Team Treehouse or Udemy, or free FutureLearn or Coursera, it’s really easy to find a suitable course and start learning in seconds, plus it’s normally a little cheaper. Just head to the website, type in the topic that fascinates you, then begin watching the video tutorials. Besides making notes about the videos, sometimes there is a chance of getting support from a tutor or engaging in the community, which makes online learning a little bit more social. However, I prefer to use these programs as a supplement and vary information from different sources. There is never just one right way of doing things, at the end of the day.

But wait, I’d like to dig deeper.

Are you game for a challenge? When I wasn’t able to afford an MA degree straight out of uni, knowing that I’d love to learn the skills necessary for what I’d love to do for a living, I decided I will educate myself through writing my own gameplan and possibly getting work experience to solidify what I’ve learned.

Okay, so how do we go about this?

I’ve attended open evenings before, getting to know what a degree in journalism/media/communications could consist of. I’ve read brochures and looked at module lists, and I decided I’ve got what it takes to plan out my own research. Writing down all the practical and theoretical skills I could learn, I boiled the degree down to a list of topics. Be it being commercially aware and copywriting for a certain target audience (and search engines), using social media to publicise my work, the essentials of graphic design or video reporting – I included the information on the list, and slowly started branching out to figure out what I need to learn to make my self-development process as effective as possible.

What should make the list, then?

The beauty of self-learning is that you can make it as theoretical or practical as you require. When you’re deciding, have a look at your dream job descriptions and list the necessary hard skills. Tune into the industry news, understand what’s in and out, get a good grounding in the tools and expertise valuable in the past and at the very moment, and try to forecast that into the future, too.

Where do I look for the learning materials to learn a new skill?

Start with a few books that could explain the basics for you. I’ve got my collection of books about public affairs, writing for journalists, copywriting, plain English, marketing, photography, graphic design, video editing, and my trusty thesaurus as a reference – and those formed the solid foundations for my self-sufficient education. Look at what is absolutely essential, and then check the best sources for learning – you can even use the bibliographies for uni modules that you can sometimes find on the Internet!

As I mentioned before, I tried to be up to date with the industry news to see how much I can understand – and you learn new terms much quicker that way, too. When something sounded more useful, I’ll give it a google to find even more articles and tutorials. Don’t forget YouTube – it can be a fantastic source of information if you find channels devoted to your newfound hobby – or Pinterest, where you can find collections of great tutorials. Some organisations will also allow you to learn (and even certify) with them: Adobe hosts a great forum rich in resources for multimedia specialists, HubSpot and HootSuite have marketing/social media classes you can take for free, and the BBC has a handful of resources for those who want to step up their journalistic game. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find relevant sources for yourself.

The sources are always a Google search away, especially when you’re trying to learn the digital skills. Not convinced? I taught myself the basics of graphic design and website development that way  – and I’ve now built a portfolio of work. To do this, I used a physical book that summed up the solid basics, then started learning Photoshop and Illustrator from the abundance of online tutorials that were covering what I could likely use in the future (which will help you get a portfolio, too), to finally start getting work and developing skills while working with others. But you can apply this to any topic, more or less broad. If you fancy becoming a photographer or a master of video editing, scour YouTube to find the best tutorials, and pick a photography website that shows you step by step how to use settings on your camera, for instance.  Look for a chance to put your skills into practice: it might be managing social media for a local charity for a few hours per week or designing a leaflet for your favourite local shop to get a new piece into your portfolio.

How do I manage all that?!

It’s really much simpler than it sounds – all you need is a diary, be it a traditional or a digital one, and a thick project notebook. Watch tutorials, read as much as you can, make notes, re-read and underline important information again. Set yourself deadlines and little tasks. Most importantly, put these newly gained skills to use as enjoyable things that you could do. I’d normally write a review or a blog post to practice, complete another tutorial as an assignment, or go outside with a camera to snap a few pictures. Be committed, and remember why you started in the first place.

I’m lacking a mentor and classmates… Can I get that in the package?

Thankfully, there are many communities that you could join to learn new things. Social media are particularly powerful here: you can follow the leaders in the industry and read what they share, learn how they interact and network (which is another essential thing you could pick up). On LinkedIn, you could join groups that will help you stay up-to-date and allow you to ask the community if you can’t grasp a certain concept. There are also Facebook groups you can join, often hosted by niche bloggers, that could help you learn new stuff.

Any questions? Ask Quora. A handful of helpful people share their expertise there, so you can get reliable answers from professionals that can give you some advice to keep you moving forward.

If you’re lacking flesh-and-blood human interaction, check out MeetUp.com or Eventbrite to see if you could meet up with other fellow hobbyists – and learn anything new in your local area. Sometimes it might be helpful to keep an eye what your local library or community centre has to offer, too!

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being .

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