Today you are more capable of teaching yourself anything than ever before.
With the incredible access to information, self-learning has become as easy as firing up search engines, watching a few video tutorials and practicing in the right ways until you master the skill.
Through self-learning, you’ll be responsible for controlling your own education. You’ll set your own learning goals and choose the time and place that you study.
This approach can be used to learn any skill, especially if it’s an area that isn’t taught in school or university.
Self-learning, though, can be a little difficult to master. After all, it can be tough to find the time for studying and decide which resources you should trust.
It can be even harder to set goals and stick to them.
Read on to learn everything you need to know to overcome these hurdles and be an effective self-learner.
What is Self-Learning?
Self-learning puts you in control of your own education. Unlike the traditional classroom model, there won’t be any teachers or a strict timetable to follow.
You’ll choose the subject, pick the course, and move through it at your own pace.
You also won’t be studying intending to pass an exam or an assignment. Instead, you’ll be focused on becoming proficient in a skill.
Sometimes, there will be a specific goal in mind. For example, you might want to learn Japanese for a holiday. At other times, though, you’ll just be passionate about a topic and will want to learn more.
Increasingly, learning resources have been made freely available online. This has made self-learning more widely available than ever.
But is it right for you?
To help you make this choice, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of self-learning.
Benefits Of Self-Learning?
There are dozens of reasons why people turn to self-learning, these include:
- Flexibility. You can study when and where it suits you. This is ideal for people who are trying to balance their learning with a full-time job.
- Greater understanding of the topic. Self-learning can help you improve your understanding of a topic. According to a professor who made his Stanford course available for free, those who took the course online outperformed top Stanford students. This is because you can keep focusing on a difficult area until you understand it, rather than being forced to move on to keep up with the curriculum.
- Able to delve deeper into a topic. In traditional learning models, your understanding will be limited to the areas covered within the course. Through self-learning, you can branch out, following your passions to get a more detailed understanding of a topic of interest.
- Less stressful. There are no exams or assignments to worry about. You can focus on satisfying your thirst for knowledge.
- Low-cost. Many of the learning resources are available for free. Online courses can be bought for less than $150. This is far cheaper than paying for a university degree. On average, you would expect to pay $17,930 for a community college degree. If you wanted to go to a private college, you could easily pay over $50,000, plus room and board and the cost of buying books.
- Preparing for higher education. If you do need to go to college, strong self-learning skills will be required. The earlier you start practicing self-guided learning, the easier it will become.
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Downsides of Self-Learning?
Self-learning has plenty of benefits, there are a few detractors that you should be aware of, these include:
- Lacking formal qualifications. Unlike a university course, you won’t be given a degree to prove that you have learned the skill. Some courses will come with a certification to show that you have completed the activities, but these won’t carry as much weight as a formal qualification with prospective employers.
- Can become frustrating. When you are in a classroom, you can rely on a teacher to point out the mistakes that you are making. If you are self-learning, you’ll have to figure out the issues and how to fix them by yourself.
- Can be slower than classroom learning. Self-learning doesn’t set deadlines as classroom learning does. If you start to lose motivation, it can slow down progress. As we’ll discuss later, though, you get around this problem by setting clear learning goals.
Discovering Your Learning Style
Often, the way that information is presented will determine how well you remember it. For example, some people love to write down notes on a topic and read books.
Others like to get up and do practical activities. Based on this observation, scientists created four learning styles, these are:
- Visual. The people in this category respond best to graphs and charts. They also like videos where they can watch someone performing the skill.
- Auditory. These learners like to hear information presented through the spoken word. They might prefer listening to podcasts or recorded lectures.
- Reading. Those in this group respond best to the written word. They might like to read through books on the subject or take notes on the information.
- Kinaesthetic. These people love to get hands-on when learning a topic. If you can’t physically do it yourself, you might want to watch a video of someone else doing it.
In reality, you will likely be a mix of all four. But there is usually one or two that you will prefer.
Once you know what learning style you prefer, you’ll be able to incorporate this into your self-learning.
This will allow you to play to your strengths.
Setting Up a Space to Learn
It’s important to make sure that you create an environment that helps you learn. This will allow you to focus on the task, so you can better absorb information.
The type of learning environment where you perform best will vary. Some people like to learn in a coffee shop.
The ambient noise can help them to relax, so they can focus on learning. However, most people prefer to learn from a desk at home.
There are a few things you can do to create a peaceful learning environment, these include:
- Removing clutter. This will allow you to focus on the task at hand, rather than having to hunt around for your notes or risking getting distracted by a random piece of paper.
- Be away from distractions. You want a place where you can focus solely on your education. Sometimes, though, this won’t be possible. In this case, it can be a good idea to use noise-canceling headphones.
- Get comfortable. You should have a chair that is comfortable while providing back support. For a long study session, it can help to have a sit-stand desk.
It can help to have a dedicated study area. Eventually, you’ll be able to train your brain to get into study mode when you sit down.
Finding the Time to Study
One of the biggest hurdles to self-studying is that people believe that they don’t have enough time to dedicate to their studies. However, this isn’t true.
You can learn effectively with just an hour each day.
Here are some tips you can use to find the time to learn:
- Look at how you spend your time. If you are struggling to find time for learning, look at the activities you currently do. How long do you spend on your phone each day? How long do you spend in front of the TV? Can you dedicate some of that leisure time to studying?
- Figure out why you procrastinate. Sometimes, you’ll have created time to study, but will end up procrastinating instead. The key to stopping this is looking at the behaviors that trigger procrastination. Once you understand the causes of procrastination you can better address it.
- Split your study session into 25-minute chunks. Humans have a limited attention span. It’s believed that you can only focus on something for a maximum of 25 minutes. After this time, your performance will start to dip. After this period is over you should take a quick break. Get up from your desk and walk around for a few minutes. A Pomodoro timer can help you do this.
Setting Learning Goals
Setting your learning goal is vital. This will act as your North Star, keeping you on track and motivated. It’s best to start by identifying your motivation for studying this skill.
Sometimes, this will be an area that you have always been interested in. At other times, you will want to learn a new skill to boost your career prospects.
Next, it’s time to set your goal. This is what you want to achieve. Ideally, there should be a practical benefit to learning this information.
Here are some examples of learning goals:
- Learning a new programming language and being able to write a simple application.
- Picking up enough Italian phrases to have a conversation
- Studying design skills to create your own website
Sometimes, you will have a lofty goal in mind. For example, you might want to become a data programmer. In this case, it’s best to break it down into a few more steps.
For example, you might want to start with a simple language like Python and work your way up.
Once you know what you want to achieve, it’s time to create the steps you need to achieve this. Create a list of all the resources that you want to use.
Then, break down the order in which you want to go through them.
For example, if you are learning about a new topic, you might want to start with a simple introductory e-book to give you a basic overview of the topic.
Then, you can move into a few YouTube videos or podcasts, before moving into a more detailed course.
As we’ll discuss later, there are plenty of learning resources you can explore.
By listing the resources, you want to visit and the order you are going to use them you have created your own syllabus.
If you want, you can set a realistic time to achieve your learning goals.
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Staying Motivated to Achieve Your Learning Goals
Once you’ve created learning goals, it’s time to make sure that you follow through on your plan. There are a few techniques that you can use to do this.
First, it can help to set some time aside to study. For example, you might be able to find an hour in your schedule each day.
Ideally, you should be studying at the same time each day. If you do this, you will start to form a habit.
At first, it will be a little difficult to get into this pattern.
It can help to use the alarm on your phone to remind you when it’s time to start studying.
On average, it will take 66 days for this habit to become automatic. If you can successfully create a study habit, you’ll be able to become a lifelong learner.
It’s also important to take the time to reward yourself for completing your learning goals. You can have a mix of small and large rewards.
For example, you might want to give yourself a sweet treat when you stick to your learning schedule for a week.
After completing a course or finishing an e-book, you might opt for a larger reward, like a new piece of clothing.
There are a few other tips you can use to stay motivated. These include:
- Splitting your learning goals into multiple stages. This makes it easier to track your progress. Plus, it makes the learning process less intimidating. Rather than having to read a whole textbook, you just have to read a few chapters each week.
- Tell people about your study. They will be able to provide questions and encouragement. Plus, you can use them as an accountability partner. They can check in on your progress once a week.
- Have the larger goal in mind. There will be times when you will hit a rough patch and will struggle to stay motivated. At these times, it can help to think about the reason why you are studying this topic. Some people like to write their reason for self-learning on a post-it note and stick it above their study area. That way they’ll be reminded of their goals at the start of each study session.
- Be kind to yourself. When you’re learning any new skill, you will make mistakes. It’s expected that you will make mistakes. Treat them as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than getting frustrated by these hurdles.
Finding The Best Learning Resources
The good news for self-learners is that resources are more widely available than ever before. Often, it’s best to take an online course.
As the number of people choosing self-learning has grown, so has the number of free online courses you can explore. These are known as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). Many of these are from top learning institutes.
Coursera has a wide selection of free courses, covering a wide range of topics.
There are several other course providers that you might want to explore. These are:
There are a few other resources that you can use, including:
- Books. There are thousands of educational books available, written by experts. These can be a good way to get an overview of a topic. If money is tight, e-books will often be cheaper than buying printed versions.
- YouTube videos. These will allow you to witness the person doing the skill first-hand. Or you can find a more in-depth video that acts as a lecture. Just make sure that you trust the credentials of the person who created the video.
- Blog posts. There are hundreds of blogs that are packed with useful information. This could be used to help to get to learn more about new developments within your field of study.
- Podcasts. It’s common for experts in the field to come on podcasts to have a more in-depth discussion about their research and share their views on the industry. This can be a great way of learning while you drive to work.
- Forums. Forums are a great way to connect with other people who are fascinated with the topic. It can provide a place to ask questions or hear unique perspectives. Some online courses will have a Facebook group that members can join, this is an opportunity for you to interact with instructors.
Many people will opt to turn to multiple resources to help them learn.
If one person doesn’t explain a topic well, or you want more information, there are other places you can find that information.
Taking Notes More Effectively
When self-learning, it’s recommended that you take notes. This will allow you to record the most important information and remember the most important points.
You can also use it to draw pictures or diagrams.
There are a few simple things you can do to take notes more effectively and boost your future recall:
- Write in your own words. You’ll be more likely to remember these phrases later.
- Just record the main points. There is no need to write everything down. If you try to do this, you’ll often end up becoming overwhelmed and feeling unable to remember everything.
- Note future research questions. Sometimes, you might have trouble grasping a topic. Create a list of questions you have. At other times, you might have topics that have grabbed your interest and you’d like to learn more about.
- Read notes regularly. The key to good recall is repetition. Some people like to color-code their notes to make it easier to find key information.
Remembering What You Learnt
If you’re going to put the effort into learning something, it’s important to make sure that you can remember the information.
There are a few simple methods that you can use:
- Applying the skill in a practical context. This will require you to use the skills that you have learned. It will also put your problem-solving to the test. This can be done through a process known as deliberate practice. We’ll look at how you can use this in the next section.
- Using flashcards. This is an effective way to help you recall information. It’s best to do these cards a few days after learning the facts.
- Educating others. When you explain a topic to someone else, you’ll have to synthesize all your knowledge. You’ll also have to be prepared to answer their questions.
- Do assessments. Sometimes, a course will come with a form of assessment. This might take the form of a questionnaire or a project.
Cementing Your Skills Through Deliberate Practice
This is a concept that was created by K. Anders Ericsson. After studying all the masters in their fields, from science to chess, he discovered something interesting.
They all had a similar approach to honing their skills, which Ericsson termed deliberate practice.
In this case, you will need to keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. This ensures that you need to keep engaging your problem-solving skills to overcome any roadblocks that you are facing.
You’ll have to keep learning new areas of the skill or applying your existing knowledge in different ways.
There are a few tips you can use to become better through deliberate practice, these include:
- Focus on one specific area. Many skills can be broken down into individual areas. For example, if you want to get better at basketball, you might want to dedicate a session to practicing shooting. Another session might be focused on improving defensive skills.
- Seeking feedback. If you can turn to a coach or mentor. If not, you can visit forums. The purpose of this feedback is to identify your weaknesses and come up with some ways that you can improve.
- Keep practicing. This is the key to mastering any new skill. It can take six months of practice before you learn a new skill. Though you can always find a new weak spot that you want to improve. This is how you become a master in your chosen area.
Today, there is a wealth of information available for free at a low-cost online.
Because of this, you can take control of your own education, rather than paying thousands to get a university degree.
You’ll be able to control the pace, choose which resources you use, and set your own learning goals.
Though self-learning might be more accessible than ever, that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
You’ll need to have a clear plan and the motivation required to see it through.
Hopefully, this guide has given you all the tools you need to successfully teach yourself anything.
- How to Create a Study Environment at Home
- How Much Does it Cost to Study in the US?
- 7 Steps to Make Self-Learning Effective for You and Your Goals
- What are the four learning styles?
- 19 Highly Effective Ways to Stay Motivated
- How to take notes and study smarter
- How to Use Deliberate Practice to Be Good at Almost Anything
- The Making of an Expert