"Almost every step of my adult life has been hands-on learning," explains Angela Ortiz, a self-confessed "student of life" who currently works as Japan director of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for H&M, the popular global fashion firm.

"Being a single parent and main role model for my daughter, I have often wondered: What am I showing my daughter by what I do with my life?" says Ortiz, 34. "And I have wanted to show her that life is flexible and you needn't live with a fixed mind-set. Where you are now, what you study — it doesn't have to be where you end up."

Home-schooled for much of her educational life and with a high school diploma, college degree in early childhood education and certificate for teaching English as a second language, all from online coursework, Ortiz believes true learning comes from experiences, and the lessons she values most are those spent interacting with people.