Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Mark Babbitt from YouTern.  We are thrilled to have Mark and his team as regular contributors for Balanced WorkLife.

I started my career as a Silicon Valley engineer. As such, my on-the-job learning was full of “ah-ha” moments.

We all have them – the second when someone communicates the point of the lesson in a way that makes something click in your head – and you suddenly “get it”.

Not to disparage higher education at all. But to be honest, for me these moments have rarely happened in the classroom or have come from formal training. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I’ve had so many of these moments as I have over the past year.

So what brought me to these moments of great learning?

They came to me through social media.

It may seem strange that I’ve learned more from social media in any one 12-month period than any other time in my life. But I’ve traced that perception to two important factors: learning from my mistakes and daily motivation.

Mistakes have always been a great teacher for me – either my mistakes or those of others. Social media is full of lessons – some autobiographical, while others come from cruel reality.

I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve avoided by reading blogs or tweets about people at other start-ups who were kind enough to share (or unfortunate enough to be exposed).

Also through social media, I’ve found numerous mentors and experts who can walk through a challenge with me – and apply perspective or help mitigate potentially large issues – in a short Skype chat or IM exchange.

Motivation is important to all of us. Not those silly quotes without context that you read on Twitter. I’m talking about real motivation – usually through well-articulated common sense or success stories.

Has Social Media Become Our Higher Education?

Courtesy of Seth Godin, here’s a sample of the motivation received in one click of the mouse:

What are you working on?

If someone asks you that, are you excited to tell them the answer? I hope so. If not, you’re wasting away.

No matter what your job is, no matter where you work, there’s a way to create a project (on your own, on weekends if necessary), where the excitement is palpable, where something that might make a difference is right around the corner.

Hurry, go do that.

Those 72 words did more for me in a few minutes on a Saturday morning than an entire semester in Marketing 101 – because I love what I’m doing, and I was reminded of how important that concept is when I read that blog.

There’s another aspect of this “self-education” via social media that makes the process work so well for me: instant access. Whether Googling a subject I need to know about at that very moment, or learning through a Twitter chat, social media is instant in nature – I can learn now, anytime. No more waiting for the daily paper, a monthly subscription, or the newest book by Steven Covey or Tom Peters. I can gain working knowledge and absorb passionate sources or inspiration at 50 Mbps.

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune” (Jim Rohn)

I’m not saying don’t go to school. And I’m sure not saying that social media has replaced formal learning and the experiences that come from the college environment.

But for me, social media has become my “higher education”. And I learn more every day.

About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, CEO and Founder of YouTern Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. You can contact Mark via email or on Twitter: @YouTernMark.

image courtesy of Schlusselbein2007 and deiby