I’m resurrecting this post fro 2012 because 1) my chemistry homework absorbed all my possible blogging time today, 2) it is an interesting post and I thought might be helpful for those who didn’t see it the first time around. : )
I’m always having conversations with people that go something like this, “so are you in school?” and I struggle to explain my whole life because there isn’t a nice, simple answer. I’m tempted to reply with, “I’m not a college student, I’m actually an autodidact.” But my own sense of social interaction prevents me from actually carrying this out 🙂 What is an autodidact? Auto: comes from the Greek word for “self.” Such as a desire for autonomy, which is total and complete self-ownership and self-determination with no dependence on any being outside of yourself. Or an automobile which is self-propelled. Didactic: refers to learning/instruction/teaching. A didactic lecture would be a purely informational lecture as opposed to being intended to entertain or amuse. So an autodidact is a self-educated person. But autodidact sounds so much better, doesn’t it? 🙂
I don’t really have time to explain all of my thoughts and theories on education, so I’ll just focus on the high school years. I think one of the greatest things I achieved by the time I graduated was the ability to be an independent learner. For me, my high school years were pretty much self-guided. My parents gave me advice but I decided what I wanted to learn and how I’d learn it. It worked out very well because I’m an independent person in general. The idea of taking classes didn’t really appeal to me. I like doing things my way and at my pace. I have absolutely no problem with sitting by myself studying hour after hour. In fact, the biggest problem I had during high school was spending too much time studying by myself at the expense of family time and other projects.
But besides the subjects I studied, I learned how to learn. And this isn’t something that can really be taught. People can give advice and suggestions, but every person has their own way of learning and it has to work for them. I’ve become extremely good at making long-term goals (and I mean long-term, like 2,3,4 years) and then breaking that goal down to the year/month/week/day so that it becomes a manageable task. Some people work fine without an actual schedule or plan in mind, they can accomplish much without having it all set out ahead of time. Others need a highly structured schedule, down to how many pages of a book they need to read in a day. All through high school I was constantly writing up new schedules and to-do lists for myself, trying to find the format that worked the best. In a sense, self-education is about learning to manipulate your mind/personality/weaknesses so that you get everything necessary accomplished. You have to make yourself do what you may not naturally want to do, so you have to find a way to motivate yourself enough.
So for me, I’ve found that I need a balance of structure and flexibility. I don’t do well if I have to follow a daily schedule because I’m too spontaneous for that. On Monday I may be in the mood for history when I’m supposed to do chemistry, so I have no problem switching it around, or doing enough work for two days in one day just because I’m feeling very motivated. Right now I’m creating a monthly schedule for myself that lists all the books I need to read in the month and all the online lectures that need to be done. I did break up the lectures by week, like “Week One: Mesopotamia Lecture” or whatever, but I’m not exactly following that. For instance, this last week I didn’t watch all the lectures that I had down for myself. I’m okay with that because I know that next week I’ll push myself to get it all done and by the end of the month it will all be accomplished. It is a balance between keeping myself accountable but also accepting my own spontaneity and not letting that discourage me from continuing. I have also found that in my own studies, I work better under self-imposed pressure, so if I do let myself “get behind” like I am right now, it challenges me and motivates me to work harder to fit it all in. I like knowing that it is going to be difficult to accomplish everything for the week and somehow that makes it more enjoyable to do.
I think it is fascinating that each person has their own way of learning, it makes this world an exciting place. I’m just sharing what I’ve found works for me, and even this is constantly evolving as well, and hopefully it will give you some ideas and inspiration for thinking about how you learn and how to improve your self-education. Because every person ought to be an autodidact. : )