“What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul.” — Joseph Addison, Essayist.

The process of learning and creating has had more impact on our world than anything else in history. All the arts, sciences, pop culture, and technology exist because someone or a group of people put in the effort to learn, create, and share something new.

In the technologically-charged times we live in, it has become more important to challenge ourselves to improve our learning skills with online courses, tutorials, and other resources easily adapted to our unique learning needs. In doing so, we continue to refine our skills to grow and tackle modern problems both at work and in our personal lives.

Outside of the formal education system and traditional learning methods, there's an abundance of accessible learning resources and new learning platforms. Self-learning has never had a better opportunity to thrive. Read on to learn more about what it is and why it’s such a vital skill.

What is self-learning?

Post-It notes on a table with coffee cup and pens

Self-learning is self-directed learning. It’s the pursuit of knowledge not driven by culture or external pressure. Self-learners follow their curiosity to create unique learning experiences, moving at their own pace.

Self-learning is the process of garnering information, processing, and retaining it without direction from teachers or a fixed curriculum. When self-learning, the learner ultimately decides what knowledge to hold onto. Self-learners must be able to organize information, think critically, and simplify complexities to make meaning.

Self-learning in today’s world and economy provides excellent practice to teach yourself new skills and gain knowledge that’s relevant to your daily work and activities. For one to successfully self-study, they must adopt an ambitious and motivated approach to learning whereby they identify gaps in their knowledge — and experience of the world — and use these to shape a personal curriculum.

Benefits of setting and pursuing self-learning goals

Self-learning sets high-performers apart. While many of us are distracted, self-learners invest their time in understanding and furthering their interests and goals. This easily becomes a compounding habit, opening new opportunities to learn, earn, and do more.

The self-learning process can be energizing, limiting feelings of passivity and burnout. Incorporating self-learning into your routine is a powerful way to gain agency, make better decisions, and position yourself as valuable within your niche.

​As the world gets more competitive, knowing how to educate yourself gives a significant advantage. You can learn to grasp complex subjects, move with the times, and gain other benefits of self-learning like:

  • Increasing competence: Self-learners develop increasing competence as they study, apply, and practice new knowledge. Creating a dynamic learning environment fitted to your learning style and needs gives you more ability to deal with life.
  • Growing confidence: As self-learners gain new skills through real-world problem-solving and experience, their confidence in their abilities grows, spilling into many other areas of their lives.
  • Better social life: Finding purpose and commitment in pursuing your own goals helps you become more engaged within your social circle and the wider community. Self-learning gives you perspectives to create new conversations and contributions, which add flavor in social settings.
  • Increasing awareness: Self-learning brings an awareness of the vastness of all there is to learn and all we don't yet know. It makes you more comfortable in unfamiliar environments as your self-learning experiences remind you that you can figure things out if you try.
  • Better quality of life: Self-learning helps you live up to your imagination and potential. Instead of being stuck at the point where you stopped traditional education, you keep growing and create unique opportunities to live many lives through your interests.

Gather information, take notes, review, reflect, surface insights. All from one perfect, distraction-free interface.

Find out how!

Steps to make self-learning effective for you

Self-learning: Woman sharing information via video

Follow the steps below to start and sustain your self-learning journey:

Set learning goals

Setting clear, intentional learning goals from the start will help guide your journey, accelerate your progress, and improve learning productivity by eliminating distractions and other disturbances that take you away from your goals.

Set both SMART and stretch goals to stay motivated while being realistic. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. New self-learners can be SMART about where, when, and how much they study — measuring input and consistency instead of learnings and output. As you gain clarity and momentum studying, you can then begin to measure output and value in a way most fitting to your study.

Stretch goals, on the other hand, require high effort and a big-picture perspective. You intentionally set them above your normal standards to push yourself to work harder and smarter to achieve them and gain exponential rewards. They are useful to keep self-learners reaching for new heights and realizations. Get clear about what you hope to achieve and define your learning goals and milestones to get you there over time.

Choose your learning resources

Assess your current situation and decide the best, credible resources to start your learning journey. This may include free online courses from open online communities and platforms like Coursera and Udemy or MOOCs (massive open online courses) from higher education institutions specializing in your interest.

Start with the free resources and grow into buying or borrowing anything else you need. Invest your time and effort first before spending money on self-learning. Libraries are an excellent resource for this, online and offline.

Take time to find credible resources and feel free to deviate from standard teaching to explore alternatives before accepting solutions as they're presented. If you're a student, learn to use Google Scholar, not only Google Search, to discover credible sources and citations. You can also use resources such as Connected Papers to explore papers related to your field of work, Semantic Scholar for scientific literature, and OSF to support your research and collaborate.

Develop a plan or schedule

Whether you choose to start with real-world or online learning courses, create a weekly plan or schedule to help you stay consistent. There are many time management techniques to choose from: time blocking, time boxing, or even day theming. Find what works best for you and commit to it.

Taking control of your self-education gets easier once you know when to study. Scheduling also helps curb procrastination, one of the major deterrents to self-learning. Put thought into the times when you have high energy levels and enough time to make tangible progress with each session.

If you’re learning with a friend or in a collaborative environment, get their input on your plans to ensure the most harmony and easy cooperation.

Apply your new knowledge

Knowledge without application is a true waste of time and effort. It's also easily forgettable. Find ways to practice and apply what you learn in real-world settings. This way, you're turning your knowledge into practical experience and can see what works and what doesn't.

Practicing and applying your knowledge also helps you retain information and shortens the feedback loops you need to determine if you're making progress. Establish your own learning metrics and regularly assess and reward yourself to stay motivated on the journey.

Teach others

The popular Feynman technique emphasizes teaching as a crucial key to learning and retaining new knowledge. As a final step, when you share with or teach others, you can notice gaps in your learning and fix them.

Teaching others reveals your comprehension of a subject. If you can't explain something simply, you likely don't understand it well enough. Join forums with others interested in the same things you are, write a blog sharing lessons, and create a system for sharing your work and learning in public.

Teaching helps you review what you learn from a different perspective. This is a beneficial exercise for self-learners who work alone. You can build a community around what you do and document your journey by actively teaching.

Begin your self-learning journey

Autodidacts go deeper into their interests and careers than those who only follow traditionally imposed curriculums. The best part of self-learning is that it is entirely permissionless. You don't need external input on how you go about carving your self-journey.

What you need is curiosity, a willingness to begin, and discipline to stay the course or pivot as needed. Self-learning is a lifelong journey of improving, auditing, and implementing new knowledge. With the internet's resources available today, anyone can get started.

Our new learning and research tool, ABLE, helps organize your self-learning activities. By streamlining your web browsing, research notes, and ideas, we help you focus on what matters and drive results. Join our waitlist to be among the first to gain access to ABLE. We're excited to walk beside you on your journey.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Feel free to share, recommend and connect 🙏

Connect with me on Twitter 👉  https://twitter.com/iamborisv

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Straight from the ABLE team: how we work and what we build. Thoughts, learnings, notes, experiences and what really matters.

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