Self-directed learning is gaining ascendency as universities cost more and more and the job prospects for graduates are less and less, well, existent.
In 2011, Bill Gates gave a talk in which he predicted the death of the traditional place-based university. With so much information available on the Web and quick access to books and online courses, it is indeed tempting to build an education based on self-determined goals.
Wikipedia defines self-directed learning (or autodidacticism) as self-education or self-directed learning. In a sense, autodidacticism is “learning on your own” or “by yourself”, and an autodidact is a person who teaches him or herself something.
Your own curricula
From my own research, it seems that jobs are increasingly less related to specific training. As a writer, I also need to know graphic design, web programming and Web analytics. This involves not only writing training but design, computer science and Internet marketing. There is no formal university program that provides all that training unless you choose a few different minors.
Self-directed learning is a great way to combine training from a lot of disparate fields into a coherent plan. You can build your own professional skills to match your interests and your ideal job.
What about evaluation?
When he writes about grading written work, Peter Elbow argues that
- Grades aren’t trustworthy
- Grades don’t have clear meaning
- Grades don’t give feedback about what was done well or badly
- Grades undermine the teaching-and-learning situation (Everyone Can Write, 400)
One problem that might arise from self-directed learning is, how do you evaluate your success? The traditional university model puts so much emphasis on grades that it has forgotten about the idea of learning. Some of the brightest people often don’t do well in traditional evaluation because the way they learn doesn’t conform to how the university measures it.
Evaluation is one way to determine whether you’re learned something, but practice and production and success are another. What happens when the class ends and you stop doing whatever you learned to do? Self-directed learning can put the emphasis on practice more than producing something for the grades.
When I learn all the stuff I want to learn, I’m going to do things that are useful to me: a banner, personalizing my website and producing beautiful documents. What I learn will be useful on both a personal and professional level.
How to succeed with self-directed learning
There are a few things to keep in mind when trying to learn by yourself. Here are some things I discovered:
- Have a plan. It’s not all to think you want to learn things; you need to put them on paper. You don’t need to build yourself a week-to-week curricula, but at least have an idea of your learning objectives.
- Find good sources and experts. There are a lot of books and websites out there that are meant to teach you stuff. Also, finding experts in the field you’re studying to tell you if you’re going in the right direction (without giving you grades) can help keep you on track.
- Share your work. The only way you’ll know if you’re doing good work is by showing it and sharing it. Be open to criticism and take it as a way to be better, not as a personal attack.
So, how do you plan to keep on learning? Do you like to take classes or do you teach yourself the things you want to learn?