Being an Autodidact
How to Become an Autodidact
An autodidact is someone who teaches themselves about a subject or subjects in which they do not have any formal education. Notable autodidacts include Leonardo da Vinci, Rabindranath Tagore, and Ernest Hemingway. Continuous learning is the only way one can remain competitive in today's world in which automation is the buzzword. With the rise of online learning, you can learn anything you like at virtually no cost. All you need to do is spare an hour or two a day. With a little effort, you can learn how to be an autodidact in any subject.
Beginning the Process
Gather the essentials.To become an autodidact, you’ll need a few supplies. Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum; you need some tools to help you along the way. To start off, get a notebook, pen, and maybe a nice cup of coffee.
- Get a small notebook that you can bring with you everywhere. This will be useful to write down observations or ideas as well as topics for further study as you think of them.
- You’ll also want easy access to the internet. This is a great source of information, so having a smartphone or some kind of device that allows you to access the internet whenever you want to look into a topic will help you become an autodidact.
Set goals and a deadline.Ask yourself why you are learning about a certain topic, how much you hope to learn, and when you want to finish. This is an important step as actually putting this information down on paper would make the plan more concrete and push you to keep at it without giving up.
- Chart out how many hours a day you can set aside for learning and try and stick to the timetable. You could do weekly assessments and see if the timetable is effective and reevaluate if it isn't.
Decide what to learn.You must decide on what to focus on. Knowledge is vast and it is not possible to learn everything. Select smaller sections of topics to begin with so that you can easily acquire all the knowledge on that given subject. Once you have mastered this piece, then you can move on to another topic or to a more inclusive view of a larger subject.
- For instance, if you are planning to learn history, then it would be best to pick a time period or a particular country. This way you can concentrate on certain aspects and not be bogged down by the magnitude of information.
- Choose topics that you are passionate about.
Identify the resources.There are many learning resources available like books, the Internet, documentaries, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It is not realistic to expect yourself to learn by being constantly involved with all these resources. So, pick one or a combination of the resources for yourself.
- For example: to learn about the government of India, you could choose ten books and a MOOC. Or you could learn only with books. Or you might want to go through articles and essays available online.
Using Books to Learn
Make a list of books on the topic.With this method, you’ll essentially be studying a topic by learning about it from different perspectives. To begin, you’ll need to make a list of books that relate to a certain topic you’re interested in studying.
- You could begin compiling your list of books by searching for the topic on websites like Goodreads or Amazon.
Start with a book on the list.It doesn't matter which book you read first unless you have a specific order in mind from the offset. For example, you may want to start with a book that offers a broader view of the topic before getting into more nuanced aspects of the subject. When you are finished with that, move on to the next book on the list. This is how swarming works. You reading everything on a certain topic from different authors' perspectives.
- If you decide to start studying the Civil War, you might want to begin with a book that gives a broad overview of the war in general before moving on to books that discuss individual aspects of the war like the Battle of Gettysburg or the problems with Civil War prisons.
Take notes as you read.Note taking allows you to process the information you gathered while reading. This way you can question yourself about how well you understood the topic and also remember pertinent information.
- Maintain a glossary in your notebook for words and concepts related to the subject you are learning about.
Expand your reading list.You should be constantly adding to your reading list on a topic as you encounter new sources of information. If you want to read everything written about a topic, you’ll need to be on the lookout for new material to enlighten you.
- You could decide what to read next either from the works cited in a book you finished or from a new Google search. Or you might choose what to read next based on some new concept you read about in the last book.
Learning through Alternative Methods
Take advantage of MOOCs.Many colleges and universities offer Massive Open Online Courses, which are free online courses you can register for to learn about various topics and subjects. They are offered in various languages and at various times in order to reach the widest audience possible.
- Enroll in as many MOOCs as you can on your desired topic and engage fully in the course. Do all the readings and participate in online discussions for the class. This is a great, free way to learn more about a subject.
Look out for documentaries on the topic.Watching documentaries allows you to see some of the information dramatized. They can also give you more clarity on what you already read or might read in the future and help you remember it better. You can get documentaries at your local library or through a service like Netflix.
- There are many documentaries that offer visual depictions of historical events that will help you to visualize the topic more clearly.
- There are also many historically accurate films you can watch to broaden your understanding of a topic.
Watch TED talks.Another great way to learn about a subject is by watching TED talks. TED is a nonprofit organization focused on the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design which hosts talks intended to spread ideas on innovative subjects. The invited speakers are usually leaders in their field and have some new take on a subject or some inventive idea that they speak about in their short presentation.
- You can search the TED talks website by topic, category, speaker, language, date, or keyword. So it is easy to find something informative on the topic you wish to study.
Visit historical sites.One of the best ways to learn about a topic is by going to the place where it actually happened or where there is some kind of monument or official location celebrating the subject.
- For example, if you’re interested in learning about French culture, consider spending some time in France so you can experience the culture firsthand rather than just read about it.
- You could also visit museums dedicated to your topic. For example, if you are studying the life of Ernest Hemingway, you could consider visiting the Ernest Hemingway Museum in Oak Park, Illinois, or the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida.
Read organizational newsletters.Sometimes official organizations have newsletters that they send out to subscribers interested in their topic. They usually cover news regarding the topic, upcoming events that might be of interest to followers, and other important updates related to the subject.
- Such newsletters might be sent out biweekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually.
- For example, if you are interested in studying American literature, you might consider subscribing to the Modern American Literature (MLA) newsletter or the American Literature Association (ALA) newsletter, or even an author-specific newsletter like the Walt Whitman Review or the Henry James Review.
Keeping Track of the Things You Learn
Brainstorm at each stage of learning.Jot down any ideas you might have about the subject before you start learning. When you are in the middle of learning about your topic, try to brainstorm and summarize your knowledge again to see what you’ve taken away about the topic so far. And when you have finished reading everything you want to about the subject, take stock of your new knowledge by brainstorming again.
- This will help you synthesize all of the knowledge you’ve acquired, but it will also allow you to keep track of how far you’ve come during the process.
Keep a journal.As you are learning new things, it’s important that you write them down so that you can refer back to them at a later date. This will allow you to maintain your new knowledge more effectively. Reading something once won’t necessarily make it stick in your mind forever, but the act of writing and reviewing a piece of information will help log it in your long term memory.
- Write down interesting facts you learn and your observations about them. You can take notes regarding where the information came from – giving the name of the book and page number in case you want to go back to the original source later.
Create a blog.Another good way to keep track of your newly attained knowledge is by keeping it organized in some kind of online forum. This way, you’ll have access to it wherever you are – even if you leave your notebooks at home.
- Use different colored pens while taking down notes and highlight important concepts and words. This way the information will pop out when you go through the notebook later.
- Maintain a binder instead of a notebook. This is more convenient if you want to add more information.
- Annotate in the book as well and record where the annotation is in your notebook.
- Maintain a page explaining any symbols or short forms you may have used.
Video: Self-learning | Ryan Lee | TEDxHongKongED
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