Jan Plan for Life: Three ways to keep learning in the new year

January, for most people is the start of the new year with new resolutions, goals and desk calendars. But for me, it will always be Jan Plan – an opportunity to keep learning year after year.

What’s Jan Plan? Some other schools might call it J-Term or January Term. Regardless of what you call it, it is magical. As an undergrad, I was fortunate enough to attend Colby College where students would spend each January focusing on one course only, learning as much as possible about that subject, before starting the regular semester.

During this term, I studied topics from “Men and Women in American Film in the 1960’s,” to “Ecological Field Study to Anguilla” in the British West Indies. My friends participated in furniture making courses, EMT courses or “Chemistry for Life” – a course dedicated to making the science of everyday life engaging. Many of these courses were ungraded, putting the emphasis on learning.

My first post-graduation month of January felt strange. I was in the “real world” but I wasn’t spending my month focused on learning something new. Even now, a few years later, I know January isn’t different from any other month, but it feels like it should be.

The lack of Jan Plan in my life is a great reminder to spend time trying to learn something new. While it’s impossible to take a month away to spend time learning about a topic (though I would certainly welcome the opportunity), here are some simple ways to keep learning:

  1. Watch TED Talks
    Have you met TED? If not, do so immediately! Each week, TED releases new talks which are incredibly thought-provoking. You might not learn something new every time, but you will definitely walk away thinking differently. TED Talks range from ad man Rory Sutherland’s exploration of real and perceived value (with interesting marketing context) to Arianna Huffington sharing her belief that success is found on our mattresses (and why) and finally Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech, “How to live before you die,” which seems timely given the week’s events. I can easily spend hours learning via TED Talks and luckily, there are at least a few new ones each week!
  2. Tap your network
    Grab a friend/colleague who’s passionate about something you’re interested in and spend some time learning from them! The beauty is that you can learn about anything; whether it’s independent movies, cooking Italian cuisine or salsa dancing while also getting to know the person better. Hopefully you can teach them something too!
  3. Volunteer!
    I’m always surprised by the amount I learn when about myself and the world around me by helping others. Fortunately for me, Communispace recognizes the importance of giving back and gives us time to do better in our (non-virtual) communities – and boy, do a lot of organizations benefit. Whatever your interest, I’m sure you can find an organization that needs your help.

I realize now that the point of Jan Plan wasn’t just to focus on one thing for a month, but to learn how to become a lifelong learner. I’d love to hear the ways you continue to learn – especially if it happens to be a January escape to study something in a warmer climate! And of course, happy Jan Plan everyone!