The Art of Self Education - The Future of Learning

"Learning how to learn is life's most important skill."
- Anonymous

Welcome to The Art of Self Education
Why Self Education?
Proving Your Education
Self Education - 15 Ways to Learn

Welcome to The Art of Self Education

Self education is a passionate interest of mine and I want to share that passion with you.

The importance of independent, self-directed learning is growing. It is a trend being embraced by individual learners as well as companies, organizations and learning institutions. I believe it will become the preferred approach to most learning over time (actually, it is already).

Here I offer information and resources about self education. It also offers advice on providing evidence of your education to potential employers when you don't have a college degree. I'd be honored if you'd bookmark this page and keep coming back. I plan to update this site regularly.

What is self education? The answer depends on whom you ask. Self education is often referred to as autodidactism, informal learning, ISDL (independent, self-directed learning) and self-directed learning, among other terms. Basically, self education recognizes and seeks to foster every person's ability to learn and educate themselves in ways that work for their individual interests, goals and learning styles.

No area of study is static. New information, visionary thinkers, real life stories, research, practical experience, and other contributions to the body of knowledge about self education will emerge. As I encounter them, I plan to share them with you here while I also offer my own personal story and approach to learning. The goal is that we learn together, not for you to adapt to any learning approach I mention here. Personal growth and a love of learning is what I hope to promote to improve everyone's lives by fostering the self education approach and mindset.

Enjoy learning, your way!

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Why Self Education?

A New Approach Is Needed

The era of our sole reliance on classroom-based education is quickly fading. Traditional educational systems will continue to have an important place in our society, but the time has come for us to embrace an approach to learning and education as something that can take place in a multitude of ways.

Self education is the future of learning. As our interconnectivity grows and the global repository of information and learning opportunities increases exponentially each year, we need to start thinking differently about how we educate ourselves.

We need to place our focus on providing everyone with the permission, skills and resources to pursue their learning and education on their own in a natural, self-directed manner. Self education is not a new concept. Many of the greatest thinkers and innovators were self-educated men and women. So as graduation from traditional educational institutions continues to become the assumed standard of an educated person, a counterbalancing approach of fostering the self education mindset must be a priority.

It's likely that classroom-based education will always have an important place in our society, but self education must be considered an equally viable means by which to educate ourselves.

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The Changing Workplace

Modern job requirements, along with the accelerating pace at which we now live, necessitate constantly updated information and skills. The workplace of today isn't the workplace of a decade or two ago. Things change quickly now. Unless a worker develops the ability to continually self-educate to keep up with new information, technologies and skills, their employment future is at risk.

Historically, companies and businesses have relied on educational institutions or internal training programs to keep their employees current on the information and skills they need to do their jobs. That scenario is quickly shifting. Now employees (and this includes the self-employed) must take more responsibility for their own training. No longer can a worker rely on their employer to provide the training necessary to grow and advance in a career. No longer can the knowledge and skills of today be seen as adequate to do the job in the future, even two or three years into the future.

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Colleges and Universities

The necessity for the grade school and probably the high school system is hard to argue against. Yes, if a parent has the ability and stamina to engage in homeschooling, that is certainly a valid option. But otherwise, having the 1-12 grade system we have today in the United States, although it could be certainly be improved, makes sense.

However when the college and university level is reached, it becomes murkier. For some, such higher education makes a lot of sense. I'm sure most of us wouldn't want a medical doctor working on us that hadn't been through some rigorous higher education. But not all jobs or life paths require a college education, yet we continue to hold it up as the most logical path for everyone.

I recall sitting in the fourth day of my university's semester-long Psychology class listening to the professor. There were about 200 of us packed into a lecture hall. I had already read well ahead in the required textbook. The professor's words sounded familiar. I took out the book and realized he was reciting the text, virtually word for word, and had been doing so for every class thus far. This annoyed me. Why was my father paying for this expensive university education if all the professor was going to do was read from a book I could have taken out of the library and read for free. I never set foot in class again except to take the midterm and final exams and I passed the class easily with a B grade.

Certainly what I just described is not representative of all college classes. But all too often it is. The ideal of Socratic classroom discussion or small classes engaged in team learning is, unfortunately, a rare occurrence. Add to that the outrageous escalation in tuition fees, even at many state-run colleges, and one has to wonder if there isn't a better way. For some people there is.

For many people, an education gained by experience, reading, watching, mentoring, research, investigation and conversation is of equal, if not better, quality than what they would have gained in a traditional four-year college or university. It's time that this approach to learning is recognized as a viable alternative and that such learning is accepted by employers and others who so often rely on a four-year degree to screen their applicants. Companies and businesses need to rethink their Human Resources hiring requirements to include credit for work experience in lieu of a college degree, or put in place hiring screening procedures that examine portfolios or other tools used to demonstrate a candidate's breadth of knowledge, skill and experience related to the job's competencies and skills requirements. Reliance on a degree is tenuous, at best, as a standard by which to assess a candidate's worthiness for a job.

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Getting Started

If you're someone who believes that the only way you can learn something is by attending a class, forget those notions now. If you believe a college degree is required to be able to say you're well-educated or have the right skills or knowledge for all professional or skilled jobs, forget those notions now.

Self education is a valid alternative to classroom-based or instructor-led education. Slowly the power of taking control of our own education is permeating our Western culture, but the time for you to embrace it is now. Use this site and search the web for other resources. Visit the Resources section for some starting points. With a little passion and effort anyone can learn just about anything outside of the classroom. And if you decide some classroom instruction is best, that's good too. Self education in no way challenges other forms of learning. It's actually a complement to it and ultimately more important because self education can be used for lifelong learning, a requirement in our times. Have fun learning!

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How to Prove Your Education (Without a College Degree)

Here's the dilemma. You're about to search for a new job. You have some work experience behind you. You've learned some things along way. Perhaps you've read some books, learned on the job, taken some workshops, or otherwise gained some great experience, knowledge and skills that a potential employer will undoubtedly find of benefit to their company. Now you're looking for a new job or a promotion, but you don't have a college degree. What do you do?

This is the question my article titled How to Prove Your Education (Without a College Degree) attempts to answer by offering sound advice on an approach to proving your education (knowledge, skills and experience), usually for a prospective employer.

You'll need Adobe's free Reader to view the article.

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Self Education - 15 Ways to Learn

What's the best way to learn something? The answer is that it's the way that works best for you. And that is the foundation upon which self education is built.

Here are 15 ways you can gather and analyze information, develop skills and learn about anything whatsoever.

#1 - Web Sites. Since you're on this web site now, this had to be first. The web has become the first entry point of learning explorations for many people as the web's content becomes increasingly packed with information and learning opportunities.

#2 - Books. Books are still one of the best ways to learn. Available in libraries, bookstores, online libraries, secondhand stores, and loaned from friends, books are still a primary learning method. Always check out all of the references and the bibliography, if there is one. These are often great indicators of materials you can study further if you so desire.

#3 - Workplaces. The modern workplace has always been a good learning opportunity, but they're becoming more so all the time. If your workplace offers training, take advantage of it. It's like being paid to go to school. Volunteer for projects you anticipate might leave you with valuable knowledge or skills.

#4 - Magazines. While many printed magazines seem to be devoted to contemporary culture and fashion (not entirely useless subjects themselves), many contain articles about, or are entirely dedicated to, truly great information and thinking.

#5 - Learning Chains. This is one of my favorite learning approaches. Pick a place to start. Let's say a book on a particular topic. Read the book. Find a web site referenced in the book and visit it. Find a link on that site to perhaps a professional or non-profit organization that represents the topic. Get the contact information from the site and call and ask to talk to someone about your interest (you'd be surprised who's willing to talk to you if you ask). And…. well, you get the idea. Make the chain as long as you need to until you're satisfied with what you've learned.

#6 - Learning Groups. You'll find learning groups formed to study almost any subject or topic. Some learning groups connect online and some local ones host in-person group discussions. If you don't find a learning group for a topic you're interested in, start one of your own.

#7 - Speeches and Presentations. People give speeches on all sorts of topics and you can often find a topic you'll be interested in.

#8 - Conversations. Having a good conversation with someone can prove very educational. You can learn something from anyone. We all know something well that others don't. If you know of someone who has a background in a subject of interest to you, ask that person out for coffee, lunch or dinner. People find it flattering that someone looks to them as an expert on something.

#9 - Workshops. You'll find many kinds of workshops taught these days.

#10 - eLearning. Search the web for online, self-paced elearning courses.

#11 - Newsletters. Professional organizations, groups and individuals provide free or subscription newsletters on a variety of topics.

#12 - Classroom Instruction. Yes, in spite of my strong personal preference for the self education approach, traditional classroom instruction can be a fantastic way to learn something. Self education in no way negates the value of classroom-based learning. (But self education should most certainly be viewed as an equal, and sometimes superior, method of learning.)

#13 - Correspondence. Whether it is email or snail mail, correspondence with another person can be educational. And you'd be surprised how many people who are experts in a topic area are willing to share their expertise with others.

#14 - Television. Public television, educational channels and even mainstream television programming can be highly educational.

#15 - Mentoring. A mentor is someone experienced in a certain skill, endeavor or knowledge area who supports the education or skill advancement of someone less experienced. Finding a good mentor is a great way to learn.

And there are lots of other ways. Check back here for more listed in the future.

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Quotes About Self Education

I've always liked quotes and aphorisms. A properly worded phrase can inspire, inform and motivate in a way not always easy to do with longer forms of writing. These quotes, listed alphabetically by the person quoted, contain nuggets of wisdom about learning spanning ancient times to the present. Enjoy.

"The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live." Morris Adler

"We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself." Lloyd Alexander

"Love the little trade which thou hast learned, and be content therewith." Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." Aristotle

"You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives." Clay P. Bedford

"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful." Buddha

"Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can - there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did." Sarah Caldwell

"Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand." Chinese Proverb

"Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival." W. Edwards Deming

"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn." Albert Einstein

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." Mahatma Gandhi

"We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction." Malcolm Gladwell from Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, 2007.

"What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers." Martina Horner, President of Radcliffe College

"Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student." George Iles

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma." Eartha Kitt

"You learn something every day if you pay attention." Ray LeBlond

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." C.S. Lewis

"Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it." Theodore Roosevelt

"The wisest mind has something yet to learn." George Santayana

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." Alvin Toffler

"Only the curious will learn and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning. The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient." Eugene S. Wilson

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Links to Self Education Resources

Finding Your Own Resources

There are a multitude of resources you can use to learn on your own. The web is the best place to begin your search for those resources. The list on this page is a great starting point, but don't hesitate to search for your own. The content on the web is increasing quickly and sites are being added and updated all the time. Use the following search engines and keywords when searching and you're well on your way to learning.

Search Engines: Google, Ask, Cuil, Yahoo

Keywords: self-directed learning, informal learning, autodidactism, self education, self-education, independent study

Great Learning Resources

The web is a boon to self education. Using the internet you can access a vast array of information, tutorials, classes, elearning, research databases, online magazines and newsletters, blogs, books, videos, audio, and the offerings keep growing. Most are free and if you're clever you can usually find a free alternative to learn just about anything. But there are plenty of great sites and online classes that charge a fee that might just be worth it. The links below are a great place to start your self-directed learning investigations.
Home of Autodidactic Press, founded by Charles D. Hayes. You'll find books, a newsletter and other useful information related to lifelong learning.
The Autodidact Project by Ralph Dumain.
Very useful page about Ivan Illich with links into key obituaries and to his writings. Includes e-texts of Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality.
Massive Resource List for All Autodidacts. Amazing site with lots of links to great resources for self learners.
Free education on the internet.
Known for his critique of modernization and the corrupting impact of institutions, Ivan Illich's concern with deschooling, learning webs and the disabling effect of professions has struck a chord among many informal educators. This site explores key aspects of his theory and his continuing relevance for informal education and lifelong learning. This sites contains some great links and recommended reading.
Strong Value of Self-Directed Learning in the Workplace: How Supervisors and Learners Gain Leaps in Learning.
The Personal MBA (PMBA) is a systematic program of business self-education designed by Josh Kaufman to help people master advanced business concepts without enrolling in a traditional MBA program.
Self-Directed Learning. 1994 article in The International Encyclopedia of Education (second edition).
Self Made Scholar. Learn Free. The goal of is to connect people to the resources they need to learn. Anyone who is interested in learning (be it academic learning or technical learning) is welcome to join the community. Business professionals, students, seniors, stay-at-home-moms, homeschoolers, unschoolers, and autodidacts of all kinds are welcome.
This network of independent scholars, based at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, has been meeting about once a month for the past five years.
The Starfall learn-to-read website is offered free as a public service. They also provide writing journals and books at a very low cost that can be used with the website or separately. Teachers around the country are using Starfall materials as an inexpensive way to make the classroom more fun and to inspire a love of reading and writing. Primarily designed for first grade, is also useful for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and second grade. Starfall is perfect for Home Schooling. [Note: While I focus primarily on adult learners, I thought this site was cool enough to include it here.]
This has quickly become the default online reference for many people.

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Copyright © 2009 Race Bannon