The term “self directed education” came up in a session with my life coach this week. It’s pretty self-explanatory in that you as the scholar or learner choose the direction of your education. This isn’t the standard method of education in our majority culture but it makes obvious sense; You get to learn what you actually want to learn.
While I’ve not heard of this before, it has been the way I’ve managed my own education. School was all fun, of course, but it was completely impractical. Mathematics and English were the subjects that I found most helpful at school level. I’d already self-learned most of what we were doing in Computer Studies, and everything else, including the topics I enjoyed, had no practical application. Not for me at any rate. Everything that I needed to and wanted to learn, I could learn from books and, subsequently, the Internet.
This isn’t to take away the need for directed education; there are many people who benefit from this as well. But directed learning ends when we reach our late teens, and then we need to take it upon ourselves to manage that direction. Tertiary education institutions are a transitional space with some direction while relying on students to at least manage their own schedules too.
So I didn’t manage the tertiary education thing mainly because there wasn’t anything I wanted to learn at tertiary level. So I flunked repeatedly. The topics that did interest me, I learned on my own, essentially managing my education all my life. I applied myself to studying in any way that suited me. This could have been finding books on the subject, or short-term classes, or workshops, or online-videos. I think it’s the best way to learn. And it is the only way to learn once you’re out in the working world.
With this way of study, however, comes discipline. I didn’t have much discipline through my life. And I had a rather shortish attention span. I will apply myself fully to something but only until it becomes boring. Then I’m on to the next thing. This method served me in most of my life but it also left me rather sporadic in my pursuits with me not particularly excelling in any one thing. I’ve started instilling a little more discipline in to my learnings as I’ve aged and matured. And I want to share these with you.
The first step is choosing what you want to learn. I have a to-do list that gets updated intermittently. It contains items like learn Spanish, learn to pilot a plane, learn to swim, learn to play piano. Over the years, this long list of things we want to accomplish can become a bit overwhelming and hence we can put it off. It’s important to focus on a smaller number of items or even a single item if you can manage that.
Go one step further to break it down. For example, take the goal of learning Spanish. Choose a particular level of Spanish, and what you will be using it for. Say Beginner Conversational South American Spanish.
My own way of doing things doesn’t do well with focusing on a single item. I really can’t dedicate a month to just learning Spanish, for example. I have to mix it up a bit with other pursuits or I’ll go out of my mind. As long as it’s manageable, of course. For example, I’m currently learning Spanish and Dutch, while learning about running a business. Time is set aside each day for these pursuits, and I still get in some work and social time, exercise, and lots of me-time.
Which brings us to the next step; setting up a routine. Schedule in time in a manner that works for you. For example, 30 minutes every morning for Spanish, 30 minutes in the afternoon for Dutch, 2 hours for coding, and 3 hours for reading articles and books on business building. My daily activities vary, however, from week to week. I might have a few days when I will be in lectures and then I need to adjust the schedule accordingly. The key is consistency.
There are so many systems already available to help us learn new things. Make use a them. There are numerous applications and online tutorials for learning languages. I use an Android app called Memrise. It has structured steps that I can follow at my convenience, anywhere and any time, an advantage we have with mobile devices 🙂
You may need to wade through a few systems before you find one that works for you. Unfortunately a lot of what you may find on the Internet can be pretty crap so do your research and ask around for what others used.
If the system you’re using doesn’t have built-in measurement, you’ll need to find or create one yourself. You can only know that you’ve progressing by measuring and testing that progress. Memrise will run through reviews and I can tell whether I’m getting better or not with the tests. For my business building, it’s a bit more tricky. That system includes classes and workshops at the UCT Business School as well as absorbing content from books and articles. Measurement of progress comes down to how ready my app is to take to market and, then, whether it’s making money or not.
There are many ways to track progress on your own too. Determine what is measurable and keep a log. It could be how many new words you’ve learned every week, for example. Decide what is an important number for you and aim for it. And know that you are free to adjust the tracking according to your needs. Up it or lower it, but again be consistent.
Of course, this entire process requires commitment. It’s not enough to have a routine written out if you’re not sticking to it. So establish what your best motivation is for each item on your to-learn list, and create a way to be accountable to yourself. Motivations are emotional, monetary, social or moral. On Memrise, I want to get awards for having a high count of learning on consecutive days. The best I’ve done so far is 35. If you miss a day, the counter starts from zero. And the higher the number, the less likely you want to start again. That keeps me regular.
You could also arrange with a friend to test you weekly. Or arrange a bet that if you aren’t conversational in 3 months, you have to pay R1,000 to your least favourite charity.
Or use a carrot instead, and promise yourself a trip to Brazil if you are conversational in 3 months. 😛
You will obviously know what works for you. Run ideas with your friends if you need to create a commitment incentive.
On that note, don’t be too proud to get help. You could elicit the assistance of someone to be your referee or cheerleader, who encourage you onwards when you have down days. You may know people who’ve already achieved the skill you’re learning who will be willing to assist you too. You can also reach out to people you don’t know but who you can learn from. Many people will be honoured to mentor someone who volunteers their time in order to learn from them.
It can be very easy to lose track of where we are by focusing too much on where we are not. When I started learning to swim as an aging adult, I was very hard on myself, comparing myself to my peers who’d been swimming most of their lives. I kept looking at where I was failing instead of where I was succeeding.
This may not be a bad thing if you’re able to use this focus to better yourself. But you can just as easily spiral and give up. So stay in the present, check your progress through your measurement system, and honour how far you’ve come.
If you’re talking to other people, tell them what you’re doing, not what you will do. There’s no need to whine about how much further you still have. And also, no need to brag and pre-congratulate yourself before you’ve reached the end goal. Be aware of where you are, and where you need to go, and then just keep going.
And don’t put any undue pressure on yourself. Whether you learn a new language in one month or one year is much of a muchness. When you’re self-directing your education, you can set your own pace.
Learning new things can be difficult especially when you’re doing it yourself and you aren’t following a prescribed and directed system. The trick is to keep at it, use whatever tools are available to you, be gentle with yourself should you lose track or fall off the wagon for a bit, and simply keep as consistent as you can.
There are numerous resources on the Internet and your physical or digital bookstore. Make use of them 😉
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