If you’re anything like me, you probably prefer looking into topics of interest on your own terms rather than going into a classroom or lecture hall to be talked at for hours on end.
Thanks to modern technology, people can learn virtually anything independently with enough dedication. Of course, self-study isn’t for everyone, but why is it so effective for those who use it?
Learning independently allows for more freedom and lenience than in a classroom. You can learn at your own pace, in a method tailored for you, and focus on the topics which interest you the most. These are all contributing reasons to why many find it more effective to learn on their own.
There is a variety of reasons why an individual may prefer learning a subject on their own.
Outside of flexibility and being able to target the learning, self-directed learning is a great option for those who struggle in the conventional classroom or learning environment.
Why Do I Learn Better On My Own?
It’s common knowledge that the way the majority of classes and lectures are held is not an effective learning environment for everyone.
In fact, many students stray from how information is taught in a classroom and discover their own unique avenues for absorbing the information.
This initiative of individual learning and embracing their specific learning style is bound to reap more benefits than someone who puts all their efforts into adapting to a style that doesn’t click.
Self-directed learning is an umbrella term for anyone going off and doing some research and learning on their own.
Whether you’re doing extra studying for one of your classes or using your personal time to learn everything about a topic you’re interested in.
When orchestrating your own learning, you have full control of how, when, where, and what you study. Moreover, you control who you study with – if anyone at all.
Self-directed learning is the definition of flexible and finding what works for you.
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Why Self-Directed Learning Works
Self-directed learning is so successful because you are in charge. There is no reliance on a larger organization to tell you what to do and how.
So many people turn to self-study because following the directions in a classroom simply doesn’t work for them.
Self-directed learning takes the person out of the environment that fails them, allowing them to create an environment and regime where they will thrive, which is why many people prefer it.
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How To Discover Your Learning Style
Everyone is a learner. But whether they are a ‘good’ one depends on how they are taught.
Unfortunately, a global issue is that teaching is perceived as something binary. It is done one way, and those who don’t understand or can’t keep up with anyone else are classed as ‘dumb’ or just a ‘bad’ learner.
This is why I emphasize that everyone is a learner. The only question is figuring out how each individual learns.
You are probably familiar with terms like ‘visual learner,’ ‘hands-on learner,’ etc.
While these are aspects of different learning styles, it’s an extremely simplified and reductionist way to look at learning.
The Three Primary Learning Styles
Studies indicate that your personality can largely determine the way you like to learn. No learning style is objectively ‘better’ than the rest.
The importance is to follow the style which suits you; only then will you reach your full learning potential.
Following are the three most common learning styles.
Particularly conscientious people tend to have a strategic approach to learning. These individuals are extrinsically motivated – meaning they care about results or how they will be evaluated – so they avoid wasting time on conceptual and philosophical topics.
These individuals do best with a more rigid structure and clear goals. They are also motivated by exams and similar ways to assess progress.
These individuals are likely to follow a very methodical way of learning, often relying on a routine or something similar.
Deep learners are the individuals that are more intellectually curious, open to new experiences, sensation-seeking, and aesthetically sensitive.
These individuals are intrinsically motivated – meaning they care about the inherent satisfaction of doing or learning something rather than caring about the consequence.
These individuals are motivated by fun, a challenge, or personal interest as opposed to external pressures or rewards. They lose themselves in what they’re learning and have a range of interests – making it difficult to focus on learning one thing at a time.
These individuals find it difficult to focus when they aren’t in the right headspace. Oftentimes these people struggle in the standard school system.
Those who are sensitive, pessimistic, moody, and closed off to new experiences tend to prefer a superficial approach to learning. These individuals prioritize learning the basics of one subject and then moving on to another.
Though they are extrinsically motivated, their main concern is to simply avoid failure rather than achieve great success.
Is It Better To Learn On Your Own?
With a world of information at your fingertips, it is easy to delve into and learn about the topics that interest you.
It’s getting easier and easier to lose yourself in a rabbit hole of articles and YouTube videos – no matter what subject or topic you’re looking into.
However, there is a debate on the effectiveness of self-study and if it’s a viable alternative to the classroom.
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The Benefits Of Self-Study
There are countless benefits to being in charge of what you learn. This ranges from relieving excessive unnecessary stress and pressure to ensuring you stay interested, motivated, and maintain stable mental and physical health.
The benefits of self-study are highly personal; what is considered a plus for some people may be a problem for you. Nevertheless, here are some general benefits of self-study.
1. Staying Interested
A lot of the time, when you’re following a pre-set syllabus and class structure, you have to complete areas of study that don’t capture your interest.
With self-directed learning, you should be able to avoid or work around the minor things which don’t interest you.
However, avoiding every little topic or sub-topic you don’t like would be impossible, especially if you want a holistic understanding of the subject.
2. Time Flexibility
Self-directed study eliminates the stress and pressure of working on tight deadlines, which allows you to balance your work, social life, and learning.
Instead of juggling all your responsibility and desperately trying to make the different pieces of your life fit together, you will be able to tailor your learning schedule to the time you have available.
Further, if you need to step back from your studies, you will not fall behind or miss any deadlines since you are the only one in control of when and what you learn.
3. Being Comfortable
When I say that learning by yourself is more comfortable, I’m not talking about staying in your pajamas all day – but there is no harm in that.
I’m talking about being in an environment where you feel more at ease. Whether you stay at home or have a lovely library or café nearby, choosing the environment you learn in can be a great help.
Additionally, self-study takes away the variable of learning among other students. Though peer collaboration benefits some, it can create a lot of stress and pressure for others.
When you take your learning into your own hands, the feeling that you’re competing for success in a class is removed, which can help some relax and focus on working at their own pace.
Furthermore, learning around others can be distracting, especially if they’re not as focused as you are. Once again, learning on your own can minimize distractions and keep you more focused.
4. Mental-Health and Disability Friendly
A major selling point of self-study is that you don’t have to worry about others’ expectations of you. This form of learning can be incredibly freeing for someone who is neuro-divergent or dealing with mental health issues since these people often struggle in conventional learning environments.
Anything along the lines of anxiety, depression, and several mood or personality disorders can make the standard classroom experience incredibly difficult, stressful, uncomfortable, and generally unbearable.
This doesn’t even account for the people who physically cannot participate in the standard classroom.
5. No Standardized Testing
Another great thing about learning by yourself is you don’t have to sit through standardized testing.
Once again, these conditions are extreme stressors for many people, as well as generally not being good tests on knowledge – but more on memory.
This is assuming you have no classes or courses correlating to your self-study.
-> Learn More about Self-Learning vs. Classroom Learning: Which Is Better?
The Drawbacks Of Self-Study
Though the benefits are intriguing, self-study also has its limitations. However, like the benefits, these drawbacks aren’t universal.
What is a problem for one person may not be an area of worry for you. Here are some possible drawbacks you may experience in self-study:
1. Following a Syllabus
This will likely not be an issue for those using self-study as an extension to the learning they are doing in a classroom.
However, for those who are learning completely independently, not having some sort of guide of what to learn and in what order can become an issue.
Thankfully, there is an easy fix. You can build your own syllabus by researching your subject of interest and finding the necessary building blocks in that area of study.
Alternatively, you can find a variety of syllabi online from different learning ELEPHANT. Then you can take this pre-built syllabus and make any changes you need.
2. Direct Help from an Expert or Teacher
Approaching a subject on your own can be extremely daunting. Depending on the subject, there could even be a lot of contradicting information.
This is why most prefer to simply be taught by a tutor, teacher, professor, mentor, etc. It’s simply easier when someone is telling you what to do.
Self-study doesn’t have to isolate you from guidance. If you don’t already have someone to turn to for help, a little searching can go a long way.
Whether you find a friend with knowledge on the subject, an online or local community with aligned interests, or hire a tutor occasionally, it is possible to reach out for specific help and guidance when needed.
3. Loss of Focus
It is easy to lose focus in your learning when you’re doing it on your own. Distractions are everywhere, whether you’re drifting away from studying or simply getting side-tracked because of a different topic that caught your eye.
This can slow down your learning, and they’re likely isn’t someone who will look over your shoulder and tell you to get back on track.
This may happen for various reasons; you could be distracted, lose motivation, be bored, or feel tired. In these events, it’s best to take a step back and give yourself a break.
Forcing yourself to focus when you’re head isn’t in it is pointless. The benefit of learning by yourself is that you can resume whenever you’re ready.
Tips On Self-Directed Learning
There are many things that can make self-directed learning work better for you. Remember that learning is highly personalized, so not everything will work for or apply to you.
Here are some generalized things you need to do to be successful in your self-directed learning.
A key to successful self-study is being disciplined. It is your job to ensure you are completing the work and putting in the effort.
A lot of the time in self-study, you’re not going to have someone checking up on you to ensure you are completing your work – you must motivate yourself.
2. Set Realistic Goals
Setting small achievable goals and using them as ‘checkpoints’ is a great way to get yourself moving.
The important thing here is to avoid setting grand goals that will take an extended period of time to achieve – this can be very daunting and demotivating.
This is why goals should be realistic and build on one another. This gives you a lot of opportunities to motivate yourself whenever you reach a pre-set goal.
Think of your smaller goals as stepping stones that will lead to your overall grand aspiration.
3. Do what Works for You
Experiment with different learning styles and study methods to find what works best for you – then stick to it. You shouldn’t waste time trying to force yourself to learn a certain way if it doesn’t click.
Embrace how you learn, whether it is with sticky notes and mind-maps, watching educational YouTube videos, or a combination of many different things.
4. Study in Short Sessions
The brain works best when it is learning or working in short sessions. It is important not to overwork your brain in big multiple-hour sittings because it will likely lead to brain fog, fatigue, and poor memory retention – so you won’t even remember what you spent so much time learning.
The Pomodoro technique is a well-known working technique. It is where you work in 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks in between.
One cycle consists of four 25-minute intervals, ending with a 45-minute break before continuing.
Additionally, try to get in the ‘flow.’ The ‘flow’ is that state of mind when you lose your sense of time and get mountains of work done, only to surface hours later and realize what happened.
Getting in the ‘flow’ is ideal for anything – tedious or not – as it allows you to perform at a high level of productivity with what feels like little effort.
Some people have a specific routine that gets them into the ‘flow’ state of mind. Conduct some research and see if this is something achievable for you.
5. Maintain a Study Environment
Setting up a desk, specific area, or a room to be your specific learning environment can go a long way. The brain makes connections between places and behavior.
Thus, creating an environment tailored to your learning is one way to help your brain zone into ‘study mode.’
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Self-directed learning is becoming more and more popular for a reason. Not only is it effective, but it’s easy, accessible, and flexible.
In our rapidly changing world, everyone must work on being more adaptable and efficient learners, which is why self-directed learning is skyrocketing.
Whether you are taking an online course, doing work outside of school, or doing it purely for personal reasons, self-learning makes it easier to stay motivated and to fit your learning into the time you have available.