Self education is a vital part of life. It’s learning on your own terms. You decide what you’ll spend time on and which resources to use. This is important if we hope to be innovative and creative in our lives and endeavours. Many start on a self education journey with a clear goal in mind; to learn a specific skill for their career, but we should also do it for ourselves – for personal expansion. Whatever you’re interested in or always wanted to learn — don’t wait — make yourself a map for your own self education journey. Here, you’ll find some guidelines to help you do that.
Autodidactism 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 [insert any topic here], 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 improve your skill set for your career? Are you looking to make a career change and now need to learn a completely 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 complete 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 achieve.
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 subjects 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 read. Go to the library, seek out the relevant literature, and have a look at university reading lists. Be sure to check for Further Reading lists at the back of books. The internet is also a rich resource but always check the veracity of your learning sources online. Find out what other people learning the same thing are reading and using.
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?
No matter whether you are learning for your own interests 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 your goals. It immerses you in the topic, connects you with others, and gets you up to speed on all the on goings in the field.
Abraham Lincoln is one famous autodidact who said, “All I have learned, I learned from books”. Read as much as you can. Read as widely as you can. Read from varied opinions of a subject.
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 is as finely attuned to your interests and needs as you are. This undoubtedly makes you the best guide for your own learning.
“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” — George Whitman