Whether or not you're a fan of Facebook, you have to admire its founder Mark Zuckerberg's dedication to setting and keeping an annual personal challenge. While many of us struggle to come up with a New Year's goal that we can stick with--statistics show that only 8 percent of Americans successfully achieve their resolutions--the Facebook CEO has been publicly making and mastering challenges for 365-day self-improvement since 2009.

While some of his personal challenges have been more lighthearted, such as his initial yearlong vow to don a tie to work every day, other challenges have showcased Zuckerberg's love of learning. His 2010 challenge was devoted to learning Mandarin, and he achieved fluency, answering questions in the language at a live forum in Beijing without missing a beat. This year's challenge isn't quite as ambitious but still requires plenty of extracurricular brainpower: he plans to read a new book every other week, as recommended by his followers.

Zuckerberg chose the idea out of around 50,000 suggestions received through crowdsourcing, and is inviting others to participate through the newly launched Year of Books community. His choice to start a book club has made commentators dub him "This Generation's Oprah," showing the influence that one person can have on the learning habits of others. (In case you're in doubt, the first book he selected for the club, The End of Power by Moiss Nam, sold out on Amazon within days of the announcement.)

Even if you're no Mark Zuckerberg, you can benefit in countless ways by making a commitment to education part of your 2015 resolutions. Learning is not only the most important culture change you can make at your company, but continuous learning is key to personal growth and development as well. When prioritized consistently, lifelong learning can quickly become the driving force behind positive change inside and out of work, leading to higher income, a more fulfilling life, and ultimately better outcomes all around.

Since learning is the fuel needed for your future success and current technologies make it easy to train on your own time, what are you going to learn in 2015? With a wide world of choices on what to study, if you don't make learning just as important to your plans for self-improvement as the more traditional challenges you set--like losing weight and eating better--then you're missing out on a significant opportunity.

To jumpstart your creative thinking on what your own personal learning challenge might be this year, here are a few ideas:

  • Learn a new technology. According to Steve Strauss, it takes just a half-hour a week to understand a new technology. This is a small investment in your future, because to stay relevant in any business, you need to keep up with the changes. Growing comfortable and complacent with your current tech tools and toys is a guarantee to be left behind by a competitive workforce, nearly half of which will be tech-savvy Millennials by 2020. Developing your tech skills can be as simple as committing to reading about the advanced features of your smartphone so that you can maximize your purchase, or taking an online course to get smarter (see below).
  • Learn online. With today's technologies and mobile options, it has never been easier to educate yourself from the comfort of your own home or local coffee shop. If you can't spare time sitting in a classroom, no worries--you can bring online training tools with you no matter where you are, and approach learning on your own timeline. Pluralsight offers an online training library of tech and creative courses, or you can increase your brain cells through an online book service like Safari. Social media can help facilitate online learning as well--if Zuckerberg's Year of Books isn't your thing, try The Wall Street Journal's Book Club. Both are accessible through Facebook.
  • Learn a new language. You can increase your value in the job market while widening your cultural horizons by studying a foreign language. Online learning again makes this much easier than it used to be, with opportunities to brush up on your skills while commuting, taking a lunch break, or working out at the gym simply by watching a course on your iPad. Duolingo, Open Culture, and Babbel are just a few of the options for learning a new language online.
  • Learn digital photography. In our hyperconnected world, sharing digital images has become as second-nature as breathing. If you're planning to share your photos with your social networks, why not get really good at taking them? Make 2015 your year to become a power user of your digital camera. Simply spending some time with these online tutorials will improve your current skills 1000 percent. Our CFO--who took courses from Kelby One over the holiday break--is proof that learning photography online works.

I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is on this one, too. In addition to joining Zuck's book club this year, I have hereby challenged myself to take one Pluralsight course every week throughout the year to learn a variety of new technology skills in software development, IT infrastructure, and creative design. There's no better way to understand our customers' experience of using our products then to use them myself. What's more, I'll be boosting my own knowledge in areas I'm very passionate about, and hopefully adding more value by helping our teams continue to improve our course offerings over time.

In her book Small Move, Big Change, Caroline Arnold states that "the desire to become a better self is a universal human urge." Arnold notes that the quest for self-discovery and improvement helps keep us young, since openness to learning is an essential quality of youth. Learn from the Millennials, of whom nearly 70 percent rank learning and on-the-job development as a top priority in their careers. "[I]f you make self-improvement a way of life, you'll be practicing the flexibility and self-invention that accounts for so much of the vibrancy of youth," writes Arnold. You'd be hard-pressed to select a cause more worthy of your New Year's resolution--and your time--this year and beyond.

Published on: Jan 7, 2015
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