Why Learning Sabbaticals?

Want a career break? Transition into a new field? Develop new skills or explore a subject you've always been curious about?

Grad school, the default answer to many of these questions, is increasingly unattractive. The price has risen out of control.

Yet, school doesn't have a monopoly on learning. Why not consider a learning sabbatical?

Learning sabbaticals are time away from work focused on acquiring knowledge or skills. Most last between three months and two years.

They are typically done full-time or with a minimal amount of part-time work. Some focus on projects or online courses. Others include contract or volunteer work. Most importantly, they are self-led.

There are many benefits to self-led learning:

  • High autonomy. We've all sat through required courses that were useless to our future goals.
  • Better content. We live in a golden age of education material.
  • Format flexibility. Choose the learning medium that makes most sense for the topic at hand, whether it's a project, book, course, or short-term work.
  • Subject matter recency. Degree programs lag job market demand.
  • Low Cost. Learning sabbaticals cost a fraction of grad school.

Why not just go to grad school?

At their best, grad school programs supply the infrastructure of learning: curriculums, community, and expert feedback. They are environments of inspiration, motivation, and rigorous study.

At their worst, grad school is little more than a luxury good - a status symbol for the elite. Students rarely use what they're taught. Employers don't value school because students learn a lot there. Employers value degrees because they signal a worker's intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity.

Most people would agree that the value of school is not just what you learn. It's the credential. The network. The socially acceptable break from work. The chance at personal transformation and a fresh start.

Today, this bundle of benefits is increasingly found outside of educational institutions. Just as digital technology unbundled the media business, digital disruption is coming for higher ed.


What happens when students realize that they're learning more from YouTube than their expensive professor? Or when a portfolio on GitHub signals competence more than academic pedigree? Why are educational content and community bundled together? Why pay $40,000/year for networking? 

To be sure, the university, a 1,000 year old institution, won't go away anytime soon. Credential-driven fields, like medicine, engineering, or law, will long remain the domain of formal education. However, in fields like software, product, business, and design, new alternatives are emerging.

Bootcamps, one such alternative, have exploded in recent years. Last year over 20,000 students graduated from one. These programs are more transparent about student outcomes, better aligned with employer needs, and provide real value to those new to a field.

However, if your goal is not primarily credentials, if you want to optimize for flexibility and autonomy, if the high cost of formal education doesn't seem worth it, maybe another learning environment should be considered.

Plan a Learning Sabbatical