MOOCs, Online Learning, Social MediaWhat do Genghis Khan, Andrew Carnegie, and Jay-Z have in common? They are all exceptional ‘rags to riches’ stories, creating entire empires from humble roots. We dream of this reality for our lives, escaping in make believe experiences ranging from Cinderella to Rocky to ‘wishful thinking’ on that lottery ticket. With US unemployment hovering near 7.5% and millions more under-employed, surviving it all is the first priority. Success is just a dream. However, new technologies have enabled the modern worker to rise above the fray and achieve new levels of success – even from humble roots and armed with a modest education. There has never been a better time to achieve new levels of success – at any time in your career – with some hard work, but moreover some smart use of technologies to help you reach beyond your dreams.

Collaboration, Not Networking

For most, social media is a fun past time, sharing quirky photos and ideas with friends. It is truly ‘social.’ However, start using social for your professional career. Find those folks who are in the same field as you, authors on the topic, business leaders, anyone you can find. Listen to what they say or what they suggest you read. You may kiss a few frogs, but you will find some great people out there with passions just like you. Early on, I reached out to people well above my status – real leaders in the field – and asked for their help and guidance. Guess what? Most said yes. No one yelled at me, no one told me I was unworthy of their time (this is what we are truly afraid of, right? Rejection).

I read everything I could get my hands on and before I knew it, I had a “masters without diploma” in my field.

You will notice I say, “not networking.” That term generally means “working a room,” or “cocktail party conversation.” What is more important is find a group of like-minded passionate individuals and collaborating on ideas with them – becoming your own roundtable – to nurture your ideas, celebrate your success, and learn from your mistakes.

My circle keeps expanding and has spilled from “social collaboration” to “real life friendships” of folks who I run to meet near airports when they come to town, or who will take my phone call when I am having “one of those days.” Everyone needs friends. Friends who share your passions and help you achieve success are the best kind.

Social Learning

Even if you keep at arms length from making social friendships, there is a wealth of insight being shared on a daily basis on social networks. It is not all just pictures of food or kitten hijinks. A cursory search on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter will overwhelm you with content and insight.

Guess what? You do have to read it all. Quickly – I promise this happens quickly – you will see who has good ideas and whom you should avoid. Never before has content been so readily accessible and so relevant. Pre-social media, you could have owned the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and lived in the New York Public Library and THAT would have been only a fraction of the information available to you now on a daily basis. It is waiting for you to take it.

Online Learning

Without naming any names, just about every organization of higher learning has some level on online courses available. Whether you go all-in and get your degree or if you just brush up and take a few classes, these schools can offer some real value to help you on your way. For some, it is about the discipline of learning, the rigors of studying, which is necessary. For others, it will be learning a particular area of their discipline that has eluded them, or a collaborative environment is what it takes. Only you can discover what you need, but help is out there if you need it.

“Open” Learning

While there is more rigor and a more traditional experience to education, there are a host of “open” learning opportunities for the modern worker. Read up on MOOCs or Massively Open Online Courses to see what the latest and greatest opportunities are for collaborative learning from some amazing institutions (most top tier universities now offer great online experiences). For those of you have not heard of Khan Academy (no relation to the aforementioned Genghis), check out there amazing series of lectures on Calculus to Organic Chemistry (No, you may not go all “Breaking Bad.”). Whatever options you chose, there are great opportunities for you to take free coursework in your area of passion.

Is It An Adequate Substitute?

Do these options stand up to a good ole’ Ivy League degree? Nah, probably not. But how many of us have that opportunity in our lives – the percentages are pretty small. If you are part of the 69% of the US adult population without a college degree, you have options – options never available to any generation except now. They require work, commitment, and probably some false starts. But you can take your passion, learn for free, and find a collection of misfit toys just like you to help you along the way.


If there were two choices in my life: the easy way and the hard way – guess which one I went with? Most the these lessons were learned the hard way. I’m just sayin’. You can follow Todd on Twitter @toddmwilms or LinkedIn.