online education, e-learning, audodidact

You U:  The University of the Self

We  are living in a time of great social mobilization through education, especially for those who know how to learn independently. In today’s world of interconnectivity and innovative EdTech platforms, it is now possible to be an autodidact (self-guided) learner of almost anything and become the complete, multiskilled human you were meant to be. All without going back to school.

What’s more, you can do so from anywhere on Earth and with the flexibility to simultaneously get on with your life.  However, to get the most out of it, and to ensure your efforts don’t go unnoticed, you just need to know how to structure, or curate, your own learning. In this article I’ll shed some light on auto-didactic learning, the world of EdTech learning, and 5 tips to help you ge the most out of You U: your self guided learning.

The education paradigm shift towards autodidactic (self guided) learning, facilitated by the rocket-propelled growth of EdTEch, has begun to change our perception of learning, schooling, and qualifications. We live in a time when you can curate your own learning experiences from thousands of different offerings without enrolling in a university. In this way you can create your own ‘constellation’ of credentials and learning experiences that make you unique, adaptable and hireable.   

What is Auto-Didactic Learning?

While it’s easy enough to understand that being auto-didactic means self learning,but it can be a little more complex.  The image of a recluse hovelled away in an attic devouring every published book on a particular subject until their as expert is now very dated.  

Today, with a plethora of learning-specific technologies at our fingertips, I would consider an auto-didactic person as more of a curator of their own learning.  That is: identifying the knowledge and skill sets they want to learn; sequencing the learning experiences; obtaining, reading and interpreting resources; seeking feedback, and; creating practical experiences.  

Perhaps most surprisingly, autodidactic or self-motivated learning has been shown to be more impactful and faster. Makes sense, right?  You learn things faster and more comprehensively when you are intrinsically motivated and you can see the value of your efforts.  

What do Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Van Gogh, and Tesla have in common? All were auto-didacts, or self-taught.

More than just the intrinsic motivation associated with autodidactic learning, the ability to choose unique learning pathways and cherry pick skills and knowledge sets can be very advantageous.

Consider this, you have a very specific career in mind, one that requires specific sets of knowledge and skills.  Chances are that a traditional university course or degree that contains one or some of these skills will also prescribe a bunch that have little to do with your goals.  By identifying those that are most important, you have not only become a more efficient learner, but a more motivated one by essentially pruning the subjects that don’t align with your goals.  

 If this is the case, then it makes sense to shift all learning approaches like schools and universities to be self-guided right?  Not quite, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take control of your own learning. 

One of the biggest parts of learning and what us teachers are trained on is reflection and feedback.  It’s one of the key contributing factors to learning success.  While we can all reflect on our own learning/performance and give ourselves feedback, there’s nothing as effective as feedback from a trained professional, someone who has been there before.  

Also,  traditional methods and institutions have been so tenacious because of the necessity to be able to assess earning and assign a title to it.  It’s easy enough to say, or even believe that you’re self-taught but at some point, if you want to use that knowledge to further your career or social standing, you’re going to have to prove your learning. 

EdTech platforms have generally done well to incorporate merit-based advancement and testing for understanding into their learning programmes but at times the integral element of personal feedback is lacking.  Lucky for us, there’s ways to fill that gap too.  

The Power of EdTech

At the core of  the EdTech’s rapid proliferation and cutting-edge approaches to learning are the growth and profits to be had for those involved.  According to Exploding Topics, the EdTech industry is currently worth $340 Billion dollars and expected to be worth $605 Billion by 2027.  

While I have reservations about the commercialization of education, particularly when it comes to the essentials for youth,  there is undeniable progress and technology in profit-driven enterprises. When competing for the biggest share of a enormous and rapidly growing market, you need to have the most effective, accessible, and technologically advanced product.  

edtech, schools, technology, e-learning
Schools are gradually adopting more and more aspects of the EdTech industry, leveraging its power to enhance their own pedagogy.

Some of the progressive and effective approaches of the EdTech industry include the use of mentors, the popularity of online learning communities, a focus on real-life skills and experiences, and a broadly flexible approach to learning.  Many of these should be adopted by traditional schools and universities, although such a change in traditional approaches may take time.

More than just the above advantages to pedagogy and the learning environment, the range of educational opportunities available online allows for a bespoke education for the individual, with a diverse set of skills of knowledge sets, resulting in a type of constellation of qualifications and experience. This broad and varied set of skills and knowledge bases is more conducive to developing the skills of a polymath.

sculpture, the statue, piece-3235368.jpg
History’s most famous polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci was also an auto-didact. Most are.

Polymathic and interdisciplinary skills will be greatly advantageous for humans in the quickly changing and dynamic future of work life, social life, and everything in between.  With automation and AI taking on more and more specialized tasks, it will be the synthesizers, those who are well versed in multiple fields and can make connections, who will be the movers and shakers of society –  this is what polymaths do best.  Thankfully, with the opportunities available through EdTech, the road to polymathy is more accessible. 

There will, of course, always be some professions that demand a traditional University trajectory.  Doctors, structural engineers, chemists, amongst others, all require a detailed sequence of learning and hands-on guidance.  Also,  skills-based occupations like builders, heavy machine operators, electricians, require an almost completely practical learning trajectory that online or autodidactic learning can’t afford.

As technology and interconnective advances, however, so will the feasibility of teaching more ‘practical’ skills from a digital platform, likely using some kind of situation or VR experience.   With as  much as 75% of a pilot’s training taking place in a simulator, it’s easy to see that as jobs get more automated or digital, so does the training. 

How to Curate your own Learning

Whether you’ve already completed a university degree or have dropped out of school to follow your own path, there’s plenty that you can do online to secure your ideal job.  Try to keep in mind, however, that the qualifications of your dream job are likely learning experiences that one accumulates with years of experience in the field so, while you can complete the specific courses of study that qualify you for that job, the biggest part of learning might be ahead of you – gaining experience.  

  1.  Find your ideal jobs on LinkedIn or other job search platforms and take note of the skills required, whether hard or soft skills.  Establish which of these skills can be learned online, require a degree, or simply are a product of experience.
  1. Find reputable EdTech platforms that offer these courses. Broad learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy are great places to start, but skill-specific platforms like Codecademy, SalesForce Trailhead, or other software-centric training platforms are where you will gain the specific hard skills listed in job postings.
  1. Try to connect the new concepts being learned to your existing skills and knowledge. This means building the new concept on, or linking it to, your existing knowledge base.  In turn, applying the new concepts to your existing knowledge will open the doors of creativity and innovation .  By doing so, you will learn faster and retain more information.  It’s also a trait of polymaths, who learn to connect their multiple skill sets.  
  1. If you find some of the skills or subjects a little challenging, and the inbuilt support of the EdTEch platform isn’t quite enough, you can easily get tuition in the subject from tutoring platforms such as Preply, Tutor Ocean, or They source a massive range of experts and subject tutors from around the globe.  You may even find a mentor there.
  1. Get a Mentor.  As mentioned above, we can learn almost anything in an autodidact way (and it’s typically more effective to do so) but even autodidacts need feedback to get the most out of their learning.  Finding a mentor can be as simple as reaching out to a connection on LinkedIn, but chances are you’ll have better results with mento-based learning platforms like MentorCruise, Art of Mentoring, or Pick My Brain.  You’ll need to pay for the service but, thanks to the vetting of these online platforms, you can be sure you’re getting guidance from industry professionals.  

It’s a brave new world of rapid skill learning out there. Taking on the qualities of a lifelong learner will put you in a position of readiness to grow and adapt.  More than this, perpetual learning is a rewarding experience that enhances many aspects of your life, not to mention that it helps build brain cells and slow neural aging.  Have something that sparks your interest?  You can start learning today.

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