When I think about self education what comes to mind is inquiring minds who want to expand themselves and their skill set either for their own personal gain or for a current or prospective career regardless of their level of schooling. I see self education as a personal endeavour open to us all no matter who we are, how old we are, or what we do. It’s for everyone and anyone can do it.
Autodidacticism or self education is any self directed learning on a subject in which you have no formal education. Malcolm Knowles in his 1975 book Self Directed Learning explains the process of self education:
“In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”
So if you want to teach yourself writing, coding, photography, photoshop, or anything you desire, these are the steps to follow based on Knowles’ definition of self directed learning:
Define what you need or want to learn.
Is there something specific you are interested in learning? Is there a particular skill that you need to better your skillset for your career? Are you looking to make a career change and now need to learn a new set of skills? Define exactly what it is you will be teaching yourself.
Define your learning goals.
You know what you will be learning but now you need to set goals. What level of learning do you need to achieve and, if necessary, by when? What tasks within your chosen area do you need to be able to do to feel satisfied or to meet certain professional requirements? Do you want to be able to pass a proficiency exam? Define what you want to have achieved.
Identify who or what resources can help you.
See if there is anyone in the area you are interested in who would be willing to help with your learning. Someone who you could talk to, email with questions, or intern for. Seek out people who are learning the same as you and exchange information and experience. Join a community if there is one or create one if there isn’t. Identify all the resources you will use to self educate. There are lot of resources available to you. One of the most important is books. List the books you will use. Go to the library and seek out the relevant literature and have a look at university reading lists. The internet is also a rich resource but exercise caution in choosing your learning sources online. Find out what other people are using who are learning the same thing.
Define your learning strategy.
What will your learning process be? How will you approach your learning? How will you combine theory and practical? What will your daily/weekly learning plan be? How much time will you dedicate to each resource? How do you plan to test your knowledge or skills?
Evaluate the outcome of your learning. Were you successful and why? Were you unsuccessful and why? What could you improve on? What would you change about your process? What will you need to revisit?
Whether you are learning for your own interests and joy or working toward a particular goal like an exam or an improved CV, following these steps not only helps you define your learning and narrow down your goals but it immerses you in the topic, connects you with others, and gets you up to speed on all the ongoings in the field.
Abraham Lincoln is one famous autodidact who said: “All I have learned, I learned from books”. There are a great number of other notable autodidacts too, like; Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, William Blake, Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, and Frida Kahlo to mention just a few. No one knows you and your needs better than you do so you are undoubtedly the best guide for your own learning.
“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
Further reading: Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything by Kio Stark