Serial Learner Aritro Bhattacharya Makes a Case for the Benefits of Continuous Learning

Serial Learner Aritro Bhattacharya Makes a Case for the Benefits of Continuous Learning | Product Design & Innovation | Emeritus

Enthusiastic, passionate learners outside of enforced studying in a structured classroom are unicorns—they don’t really exist, do they? But seems like we found one! Sure, things may have changed with the need for continuous learning, but professional working adults volunteering to learn and learn some more is some serious sort of adulting at work. A serial learner who enjoys continuous learning is, by all means, rare, and Aritro Bhattacharya perfectly exemplifies this rarity with his learning philosophy. 

His relationship to knowledge gathering is akin to a binge-watcher’s relationship with Netflix notifications—a constant urge to know what’s out there and how soon they can get to it. For Bhattacharya, the concept of continuous learning stems from a pure passion to know, learn, and expand his base of knowledge. Over the last year or so, Bhattacharya completed the Professional Certificate in Product Management from Northwestern Kellogg, the Mastering Design Thinking at MIT xPRO, and is now on to his third—Machine Learning and Data Analytics Using Python from the National University of Singapore

Our serial learner offers insights into his experiences with the programs and his inclination to learn continuously.

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How Did He Manage to Learn So Much?

“I’m one of the few people in my company who actually make use of the organization’s learning funds.”

Like often tends to find like, as the maxim goes. In Bhattacharya’s case, his love for learning clearly found resonance with the company where he works, Adobe. He has made the most of that learning fund, diving into different courses in diverse disciplines that he finds interesting. “I really love learning about data, marketing, design and products, and what drives values for businesses and customers. It isn’t just about work for me,” says Bhattacharya, adding, “I have about 18 years of work experience mostly around digital product, data, to some extent design and marketing.”  For someone who has worked on both sides of the aisle when it comes to the digital business value chain, the interest in these domains was inevitable.  

Why Did He Choose Continuous Learning?

“I was looking for genuine learning.”

Bhattacharya is a dyed-in-the-wool purist when it comes to continuous learning. “It is pretty much who I am. I read a lot. I enjoy tinkering around with things, so I find it very useful when I get to tinker around in the most structured manner.” The lure of learning isn’t even about what comes next—a better job, better pay, a promotion, or perks. It is, in and of itself, the learning that draws him to experiment with a variety of courses. 

No course can get you from X to Y until and unless there are a lot of other things involved. 

I don’t look at it as an immediate ROI gain.”

How Does He Choose the Courses He Wanted to Do?

 “Once I figure out what I want to do, I go to recognized platforms and start researching.”

The focus of a dedicated philomath for course-hunting is based on the content, the learning potential, interest, and knowledge gain. This search for pursuit-worthy courses began with deep research. This included studying what the courses offered and what people were saying about them. Here, Emeritus edged out other platforms. He was encouraged by the “very comprehensive, detailed, and well-written brochures,” what people were saying about Emeritus, and how the courses are structured.

Then there were the international courses, which pretty much sealed the deal for Bhattacharya.  “They are really, really good. I’d already done a hefty course with ISB [almost a decade ago], I’d say perhaps the Indian courses aren’t my focus”. 

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What are the Courses He Took and Why?

“Product strategy is closest to what I do, which is product analytics.”

Of the trio of courses Bhattacharya enrolled in, the first one he got busy with was Kellogg’s product management program. It ran from last July to the beginning of September and aligned closely with his job at Adobe. The second one, on design thinking from MIT, went on from the end of September to November and “has been very cool”. 

The third course is on AI and ML and coding in Python. “It is a 32-week, hard-core technical course where they teach you how to code in Python,” he adds. While it may not help in his daily course of work, understanding it will help, if not from an application perspective, then from deepening his understanding of the topic. And as far as the first two courses go, he has even been able to leverage learnings from them in his work. 

What Did He Learn From Each of the Courses?

“Both the courses taught us a couple of frameworks on how to evaluate an idea and if it’s worth taking to completion.” 

However, arbitrarily applying new knowledge to work is a hard no. It’s not like “you can apply everything you learn from every module in a 10-week course on design thinking on a day-to-day basis so understanding what to apply is also equally important. At the end of the day, it is about what you understand about the frameworks and where you can apply them.” 

He did, however, find some specific concepts that he used in his work, too. In particular, the concept of RWW or Real Worth Win from the design thinking program has been a revelation. 

“The R is for Real, which is assessing whether the problem is a real one. W is Worth—whether it is worth solving, and the third W, Win, is figuring out if you have the solution, the team, or the product to make you winners. That is a very crisp and comprehensive way of looking at anything.”

It’s a strategy he finds rather useful not just at Adobe but for a couple of extracurricular interests outside work too. 

“From the product strategy perspective, we learned about V2MOM early on, where you create the vision and mission of the company itself. I use this to create the outer skin of the company. RWW, on the other hand, helps me create the core of whatever business problem I’m trying to solve.” 

“I was curious about design thinking; Snapchat emerged out of just such a course at Stanford—though that was a two-year program.”

The design thinking course turned out to be quite different from his expectations of it. “It could be that I didn’t read the brochure thoroughly, but I was hoping that I would get more into the right brain side of design thinking where you get into the anthropology or consumer behavior. The focus wasn’t so much on the art aspect as much as the science of it all. Structurally, I found it to be very similar to the product strategy course where it was taking an idea to completion.” 

It was also entirely cohort-based. This meant Bhattacharya and four of his peers had to work together in a group throughout the 10 weeks, right up to working on and presenting the Capstone project. That, he thoroughly enjoyed. “ I realized that learners from every part of the world were coming together and trying to achieve something. I loved that,” he declares.

“While it’s early days to say too much about the data course, I must say I am loving the approach.” 

In a hat trick of sorts, Bhattacharya’s third and highly technical course is also notching up the positives. “Even though this is about coding, the faculty is laying the foundation before even learning the language,” he says. 

The Faculty Call-Outs He Must Make…

“Professor Mohanbir Sawhney was a complete rockstar, as was Professor Eppinger.”

For any learner, a great faculty makes all the difference. Bhattacharya lucked out with all three courses—though it’s early days in the data course, these first few weeks have been positive. 

For the previous two courses, the professors and teaching assistants for product strategy and design thinking were exceptional. As for the courses themselves, “the product strategy] course was exactly what I expected in terms of course material and assignments. The Teaching Assitant was great; he exceeded my expectations—from the care he took when grading assignments to the nuances of feedback he gave us.”

Did the Online Platform Give Him Enough Networking Opportunities?

How I interact with my fellow learners during a course is up to me. For the design thinking course, we were a group of five for the 10 weeks; and I still keep in touch with my group.”

An oft-cited negative about online learning is a lack of interaction with peers, the fact that learners work in silos. While MIT’s design thinking program was group-based, peer interaction, in general, seems to be inadequate. Bhattacharya has thought long, hard, and analytically about that. “There are three facets to it—pre-, during, and post-course, which can be improved.”

His suggestion? To create a platform that allows former and current learners to interact. “People should know more about the course not only from the course advisors but previous learners,” he says.  During-the-course interaction, he concedes, is a tough call, considering the different time zones and work hours. “It would be great if someone could crack increasing communication. And not for the sake of writing and getting that green tick against a particular module but because it would be generally useful,” he adds.

It is his post-course suggestion that has the makings of a long-term vision. “A lot can be done in terms of assisting a vast network of all Emeritus learners. For starters, connecting all the learners across all courses that the platform offers. It will allow us to leverage conversations for any kind of opportunity based on specific expertise anywhere around the globe. And doesn’t have to be job-related. It could just be starting something. I keep in touch with my peers. I know that at some point, if I want to start something, I have someone to reach out to. That alumni support is absent right now,” he elaborates. 

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A Word of Advice for Prospective Learners…

“It’s very important to keep on learning what suits or interests you, especially given the kind of world we are living in.”

All his suggestions and feedback have at their core a firm belief in the need for continuous learning. “Be clear about why you want to learn. If it is only about an immediate payback in some form or the other, it won’t work. So knowing the why is very important,” he declares.  He also believes that continuous learning doesn’t need to be limited to what you are doing right now. It could be something you love or something you’re interested in. 

He explains, “Learn something you love. You might like the looks of an app or a website, even a bottle designed in a particular way. It could inspire you to learn more about design and may not be related to your current job. You should pursue it because you might put that knowledge to use. Knowledge doesn’t go to waste; I truly believe that. At some point, you will be able to apply that in your life—not necessarily professional life.”

For Bhattacharya, the continuous learning journey will likely stretch well beyond his current 32-week data course. “I do plan to take on more courses in the future. Both my wife Manasa and I believe in learning constantly—in whatever manner, through whatever medium. It’s regardless of whether it pays you the big bucks. Sometimes, you should learn just to know what’s happening in the world, and how you can get better. There is always something cool out there,” he says. Learning is, in essence, the foundation of wholesome living. “Without it, what reason would I have to wake up in the mornings?” 

About the Author

Senior Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Gauri has found that the upside of being a writer and a scissor-happy copy editor is a rather constant, even paranoid, eye on her own work—and a healthy aversion to complacency. As a professional content creator for over a decade, she has spent time writing (and editing) design, architecture, and lifestyle stories, as well as corporate content, brochures, ads, and websites, among other genres. Her stint with Emeritus has opened an exciting and challenging avenue of education to explore and proves what she already knows—you’re really never done learning.
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