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Manufacturers Agenda: Continuous Learning in the Age of Social Media

March 6, 2014
Why your continuous education plan requires: in-person learning: conferences, seminars and workshops digital learning: social media, webinars, email newsletters, slideshares, videos, MOOCs, online forums, etc. reading list: websites, magazines and books
With all the new ways of learning, it's surprising to me how much I value the opportunities that in-person events offer. Heading home from a series of events in Wisconsin reminds me that digital learning -- whether via social media, webinars, email newsletters, MOOCs or online forums -- hasn't eliminated the need for conferences, seminars, workshops or classes. Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of the many other ways to keep up-to-date with the skills and information I need to continuously improve my personal and professional performance. I'm a pretty solid Tweeter (follow me @PPanchakIW). I participate on LinkedIn, have a decent start with Google+ and have consumed my share of slideshares, videos and online coursework. Social and other digital media allow me to fit a little bit of learning in the nooks and crannies between meetings and deadlines -- and often at a cost only of time.
As well, it might not come as a surprise that my learning preference is simply reading. Whether ink on paper or pixels on a screen, reading allows me to dictate the speed at which I learn. I can easily reread passages, pore over charts, scribble notes in the margin or clip the most salient points. Still, I'd be missing something if I didn't get out of the office to attend conferences, seminars and workshops, where large groups of like-minded people inject energy, emotion and enthusiasm into the learning process.

See Also: Manufacturing Workforce Management Best Practices

In Milwaukee, I had the pleasure of attending three events -- a conference, a gala celebration and a panel discussion. In the one-hour conference sessions, I learned more on the topics than I would have in hours of searching, surfing, reading or watching.

The gala had its own appeal -- celebrating the state's most successful manufacturers. There I discovered specific companies with unique strategies and leadership approaches that I'd have been hard-pressed to find, let alone learn from, in the vastness of the Web.

The panel discussion was as much a conversation with other panelists and the attendees as it was a straight-up learning opportunity. There I found others working to overcome similar problems, who suggested solutions and asked cogent questions that will inform my research -- and with whom I personally connected and will continue to collaborate.

About each of the topics at each of these different events, I have read reports, watched videos and participated in forums -- and learned quite a bit. But the events provided me with the opportunity to devote more focused attention and personal connection -- to the topics and to other people who care about them -- than I would have been able in the noisy, easily distractible world of digital learning. Plus, the firm handshakes and eye-to-eye contact sealed the collaborative learning process more firmly than the many "likes" and "follows" of social media.

Register at the "early bird" rate for the IndustryWeek Best Plants Conference. Though the official deadline has passed, readers of this column who send an email to [email protected] can still save $150.

It's for these reasons that I'm looking forward to reconnecting with you at the IndustryWeek Best Plants Conference, where we focus on and energize our learning about how to become more competitive and more profitable manufacturing businesses.

I hope to see you there.

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