We grow and change throughout our lives. We discover new interests and face different challenges. Life is a classroom, and like any classroom, you decide whether or not you’ll make the most of the learning opportunities.
Life-long learning is a mindset. And it is currently a valuable mindset to cultivate. A quick browse through job listings on LinkedIn reveals that employers need people who want to keep learning, who are dedicated to broadening their skill sets.
We spend our early years focused on education. We complete primary, secondary, and tertiary education with the objective of achieving good results and preparing for a career. I grew up with the idea that my education was all about preparing for a career-for-life, and once I’d tossed my cap at my graduation ceremony, I was done.
The world has changed. Work, careers, jobs, the economy, it’s all changed. Like so many of you, I realised that to do the work I was interested in pursuing I’d have to ‘go back to school’. But the idea of having to attend classes, take tests, and pay tuition just didn’t fit into my life. I didn’t want to do it. Thank god, so many other people felt the same way because the demand for alternatives has led to a revolution in online and self-directed learning.
Self-education is an acceptable and viable option, now. This is good news because it brings our attitude toward education and life-long learning in alignment with the concept of life as a classroom for personal growth.
With a mindset of life-long learning, we improve our skills in work and in life. It’s a mindset that makes us more flexible and resilient.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn a new skill or broaden your knowledge about a topic, go for it. It’s empowering to take on new challenges and be in the driving seat of your growth. To acquire new skills and knowledge, you’ll need to be purposeful in your learning. Setting goals and creating a learning plan can 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.”
If you want to teach yourself writing, coding, photography, Photoshop, or [insert topic here], here are some guidelines and questions to consider as you create a plan for your learning.
Define What 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 you’ll be teaching yourself.
Define your learning goals
You know what you’ll be learning but now you need to set goals or markers.
What level of learning do you need to achieve and, if necessary, by when? What tasks 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 and set goals that indicate when you’ve reached a certain level.
Identify who or what resources can help you
Try to find a mentor who would be willing to help with your learning, someone you could talk to, email with questions. Seek out people who are learning the same subjects as you and exchange information and experience. Join a relevant online community.
Identify all the resources you will use. There are a lot of resources available to you. Abraham Lincoln is a famous autodidact who said, “All I have learned, I learned from books”. Read as much as you can, as widely as you can, and from varied opinions on a subject. 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 check the veracity of your sources. Find out what resources others with the same learning goals are using.
Define your learning strategy
What will your learning process be? How will you approach your learning? What will your daily/weekly learning plan be? How much time will you dedicate to each resource? How much time will you allocate to studying theory and practising? Determine how to test your knowledge and skills. These are some things to keep in mind as you plan how to go about working regularly to achieve your goals.
Evaluate the outcome of your learning. Were you successful? If not, what went wrong? What could you improve? Is there something you would change about your process? What will you need to revisit?
Learning new skills is a challenge. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Work hard and enjoy the process. If an element of your learning isn’t working for you, change it. You are the best guide for your own learning. Do what feels right and be open. You never know what you could discover.
“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
There are a number of other notable autodidacts who were at the top of their game, like Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, William Blake, Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, and Frida Kahlo to mention just a few.
You’re in good company.