Is Self-Education the Future? Escaping the Traditional Classroom and Taking Responsibility for Your Own Learning
It seems as if every technology and education journalist and commentator has recently been inspired to write about the merits of technological innovations in learning in light of recent events, such as the unveiling of MITx and Apple announcing their decision to enter the digital textbook industry. All of which is absolutely phenomenal.
In the news today, it is tough to avoid reports of college grads reeling from massive student loan debt, constantly climbing higher education price tags, and the traditional college degree’s shrinking benefit as signal in the job market.
After growing tired of hearing story after story of highlighting just the problems, I am ecstatic that disruptive solutions have finally gained the attention of a large, national audience and hope that they continue to make waves of impact in this decade and beyond. While we may not have uncovered any panacea to the massive problems facing us in the education, it is about time we started focusing on the opportunities instead of the problems.
Enter self-directed learning
With all the high-quality, free/cheap education content online offered now through resources like P2PU, University of the People, and the OpenCourseWare Consortium, self-directed learning has become easier and more relevant than ever before.
This is not to say that self-directed learning is for everyone nor is it the only form of learning that I am encouraging. However, for adults in continuing education or college-going Millennials disatisfied with their academic curriculum, self-directed learning can complement your existing learning experiences and perhaps even replace some of them.
How to approach self-directed learning
So what does self-directed learning look like?
I know you are already thinking about how it is already challenging enough to have a teacher spoonfeeding you the material while you scramble to digest 1000+ pages per week so you can outperform your classmates in regurgitating the material through a 10-page paper or a 1-hour long exam.
How can you possibly do the same thing without any guidance and completely through self-initiative?
But have you ever stopped to honestly consider how you are actually learning the lessons being taught?
I am certain you are retaining no more than 5 percent of the course material 6 months down the road. So, maybe it is time to try something new.
Or even more importantly, why are you learning these lessons anyways?
I have a hunch that answer is anything but “because you want to.” Most likely, it is some variation of “uh… because I have to”, “so I can get my degree”, “I need to get a job”, etc.
But in all these motives, the reason why you are learning does not start with you. Instead, you are learning to get the degree, get the job, get the promotion, to get ahead in terms of material success.
Then one day, you are going to have all the material success in the world and think, now what? And you might even pondor, what have I actually learned on the road that I took to get here?
What I am getting at is that learning — not learning as in cramming for a course you may or may not be interested in and/or find useful then forgetting 95% of the material 5 days after the final exam but real, measurable, and relevant learning — is so important that it should make up a large piece of your overall vision for how you desire to live out your life.
For how much thought that you likely put into planning out your future, you should be putting just as much thought into figuring out why and how you are learning.
This means the reason you learn should start with yourself. Absent all the material incentives and in a complete vaccuum, you should still learn for the pursuit and rewards of self-improvement. Your learning should be only be limited by your hunger and passion to become more knowledgeable, understanding, and skillful — not by material desires.
If I have not made it clear yet, the key to self-directed learning is to truly flip traditional classroom learning on its head and create initiative and action on your own part to chase down learning.
What I just wrote might be completely obvious, but it is surprisingly difficult to enter the mindset of putting the responsibility of learning on yourself when you have been handed an ‘education’ all your life.
The first step to graduating from the university of self-education is to adopt this change in mindset: to question all forms of ‘education’ that are being thrust upon you willingly or unwillingly, and to design a learning curriculum molded to your personal needs and wants.
Plan to be a life-long learner
Whether or not you are on a college campus, attending a continuing education program, or are taking an online course, the most important point I have to be emphasize is to be a life-long learner.
When learning stems from your own initative and action, learning becomes much more meaningful and relevant in your life. The world becomes your classroom and everyone has something they can teach you.