Every year we get a chance to review our past accomplishments and plan for the new year’s next challenges. Hopefully, as part of your planning, you include some time to improve your genealogical skills and awareness. Genealogical Education Plans are a great way to organize this time.
Whether you are a novice or advanced genealogical researcher, we all must continue to learn new skills and techniques, and keep abreast of recent advances in DNA research and testing or the availability of new online records. Developing education plans are useful tools to focus your skill-building goals as well as plot a course to successfully achieving these goals. These plans do not need to be overly complex. They should be tailored to your needs, budget, and time. After all, we need to make sure we allocate time to doing the research!
Your education plan is just that — yours. You can make it as simple as you want or as robust as you desire. Before you can decide on what courses to take or which books to read, you first need to do an assessment and set our goals. The remainder of this article covers this portion of your plan. Next week’s installment covers the creation of your plan in areas such as reading lists, self-study courses, conferences and workshops.
An outline of a basic education plan could look like this:
- Goals and Objectives
- General Skills Improvement
Each of these sections can be nothing more than a series of lists or full paragraphs describing in exhaustive detail your plans. Personally, I tend to keep it simple and opt for lists and short sentences to amplify any area needing explanation or notes to help me recall why I assessed my skills a certain way or chose a particular course.
Skill, Learning, and Resource Assessments
Your education plan should start with an assessment of your current skills. Not sure what skills you use or need? Consider the following areas:
- Searching Records
- Organizing Records
- Source Citation
- Evidence Analysis
- Writing Conclusions
- Family History Writing
- Photo Preservation and Restoration
- Specific software tools (e.g. Roots Magic, Family Tree Maker)
This is not an exhaustive list and rather broad. You can pick subsets of any one of these topics to focus your objectives. Look at these and decide: What are you good at? What do you need to improve upon? Let’s take a moment to write these down. Make two columns on a piece of paper and list your strengths in one column and your weaknesses in the other. Once you have your lists, decide which ones you want to work on this year. As a word of caution, don’t go overboard and take on too much. It’s better to pick one or two and work on mastering these skills than to spread yourself too thin. Ultimately this will led to frustration. Trust me on this. It never ends well.
The next area to consider is how you learn. Some individuals grasp the most technical information after just reading a few documents; others require an instructor to explain the concepts in an engaging dialogue. Everyone improves their understanding and skills with repetition especially as they encounter unique situations pushing the limits of their training. Furthermore, your leaning methods can vary based on the subject and concept. Most of your training and education can be grouped into these four general categories:
- General Skills Improvement
- Instructor Led
- Self Study
- Group or Peer Centric
- Conferences and Workshops
Each of these categories are discussed in greater detail in our next article along with links to several websites to help you get started. Take some time to think back to your years in school, which instructional format did you flourish?
The last assessment area looks at the resources available to you to accomplish your training. Time, money, and access are the most common constraints to building an achievable education and training plan. Time is our most precious resource and we can never get more of it. With all the other demands on your time, how much time are you going to be able to devote to this plan? Be realistic in the amount of time you allocate to improving your skills. The next constraint is money. There are many free resources available at your finger tips via YouTube, various websites, and of course our own FGS Tampa programs. Others require a financial commitment. You will need to look at the cost of the training and the benefit you will derive from it to determine if it’s worth the expense. Finally, consider the accessibility of the training. Is that one book you so desperately want to study only on the shelves of the New York City library; did you check to see if it was available through an inter-library loan? Have you asked our membership about their willingness to share their talents to possibly mentor you? Again, you can leverage the internet, social media, and teleconferencing tools to bring a wealth of information and training into your home.
Goals and Objectives
Once you identify the areas that you want to improve upon, it’s time to set some goals to clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and achieve the desired skill sets. Do you want to become an expert in source citation or just attain a better understanding of the general concepts? Do you want to master your genealogical software tool or merely learn how to upload and attach photos to your ancestors? Each of these statements can become goals. I recommend writing your goal statements so they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-specific; otherwise known as SMART goals. An example of a SMART goal could be: Complete the National Genealogical Society’s Mastering Genealogical Proof Standard self-study course by 1 July 2020.
Once you develop your list of goals, you can create the individual objectives to achieve the goal. Basically, listing what steps you are going to take to achieve your goal. Following our previous example, here are some objectives based on planning to spend 1 hour each week night on this goal:
- Order book by 1 Feb 2020. Cost is $21
- Complete Chapter 1 Lessons by 15 March
- Complete Chapter 2 Lessons by 01 April
- etc ….
Go through this for each of the skill areas you want to address. You can do them all or just a few. I tend to set about 2-4 goals per year and then prioritize the list once I review them against my time and budget resource constraints.
This may seem like a lot of work just to determine what you want to learn; however, the resulting focus on addressing your desired training will help motivate you to continue your training plan throughout the year. Of course, the true impact is the satisfaction in knowing your family history is well researched, documented, and stories properly captured.
What are you goals for improving your genealogical and family history skills this year? Let us know in the comments below. Check back next week for the companion article on creating the training areas of your education plan.