Recently, I highlighted the rising cost of higher education and how to get your fair share of financial aid. While I'm a very much a proponent of earning a college education, it's equally important to understand that many successful billionaires took very different routes to self-educate and dominate in their chosen field. 

Take Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram, for an example. With no formal education in Computer Science, Kevin learned to code outside of work (i.e. nights and weekends), then went on to develop the early version of Instagram within just 8 weeks- later acquired by Facebook for $1 Billion.

Or Jan Koum, founder of Whatsapp. While still in high school, he taught himself network engineering through a bunch of used books, often returning the books once finished to get his money back. He worked his way through sweeping supermarket floors, living on food stamps, finding a job in Yahoo, building Whatsapp to finally selling it to Facebook for $22 billion. 

David Karp, founder of the blogging service Tumblr, is another shining example of self-taught success. He dropped out of school to teach himself to code, went on to found Tumblr and sold it to Yahoo for a cool $1.1 billion.

The $107 Billion Online Self-Education Industry

These iconic entrepreneurs set the trend for an industry that is exploding (even if few are talking about it). Moving away from the rigid curriculum of a college, many skills are now available to the layman. The burgeoning online self-learning industry is worth a whopping $107 billion and is a testimony to the importance of learning to learn.

Devishobha Chandramouli, founder of Kidskintha, collaborated with me on this article and took the time to research the trends emerging in the self-learning industry. Here are 5 reasons the self-learning industry continues to blossom. 

1. Focused Skills Around Specific Training

With a fast-growing digital economy, employers are steadily leaning towards professionals with skills that are directly applicable to the job, as opposed to professionals with graduate degrees. The Economist recently ran an article about how an entire industry is rising around training people for just the skills that companies are short of.  Focused skill sets taught in cycles of  10-12 weeks for specific jobs obviate the requirement of a 2-year long degree to work on a job. LinkedIn's recent acquisition of is also a major effort towards helping the business community gain access to on-demand business-focused skills through e-courses.

2. Built-In Community

Most self-learning ecosystems, online or otherwise, come with the built-in support of an expert community. One strong reason is that some of the most versatile tools available online are built and supported by experts for the sole purpose of helping other professions. For example, Django is a rapid web development tool built by a team of experienced web developers. Having a built-in community goes beyond your individual education, as it connects you to the very individuals who can help you advance in your career. 

3. Training Becomes Inexpensive

Self-learning modules offer the same curriculum and skill set training for a fraction of the cost of the full-time degree programs. The rising tuition costs of colleges only help to make this option more attractive. Today's learning tools comprise podcasts, audiobooks, online video tutorials and many other learning tools aided by today's technology. In fact, self-learning services like Curious+ are beginning to look more like TV, where they team up with niche companies like Healthline (for their health modules) to bring relevant information on their direct streaming channels for as little as $9/month.

4. Education Becomes More Inclusive

Many middle-aged professionals looking to acquire new skills in a different area or upgrade their skills in their own field might find not just the costs of a full-time program prohibitive, but time becomes a hindrance too. Self-learning programs allow customized pace, non-restrictive hours and transferable credits as well.  

5. Lifelong Learning Improves Brain Health

Studies have found that learning something new can be the foremost aid to keep a fit brain, despite aging. In an experiment involving learning at the University of California, Davis, Center for Neuroscience, researchers found when the brain registered increased activity, especially through the element of curiosity that remains active during the process of learning. Learning is also shown to increase the general quality of one's life by helping people adapt to big unexpected changes very quickly.

Learning is ultimately all about expanding your comfort zone. As more people are expanding their skills in preparation for career advancement, there's no sign of this $107 billion dollar industry slowing down in the foreseeable future.