Some of the greatest people in history have educated themselves to a large degree using a process known as autodidacticism. This is something that’s more easily undertaken these days with the great wealth of online tools available to anyone.
Whether you’ve gone to college or not, you can learn just about anything these days on your own. Want to learn about the classics? Carpentry and home maintenance? Philosophy or cooking? Chess or computer programming? It’s all online, and with a little bit of excitement, you can motivate yourself to learn a subject in a growing number of ways.
Why self-education? Well, besides the obvious reasons of wanting to improve yourself, prepare yourself for success, and just learn as much as you can, self-education offers a few extra benefits: you can learn at your own pace, and in your own way. You can follow your passions, and learn about things that excite you. There’s no price for failure, but there’s every reward for success.
How do you go about becoming an autodidact? The answer is simple: any way you want. I would suggest you set aside just a little time each day to learn a specific subject, but that really depends on your learning style. Some people learn all in one great rush: they’ll stay up late hours for a few days in a row, consuming everything they possibly can about a subject. Others are overwhelmed by an approach like that, and would rather learn a little each day.
However you go about it, here are some of the best tools for the modern autodidact:
- Wikipedia. A vast repository of great and useful articles, Wikipedia is the autodidact’s dream. You could surf it for hours, days on end, or you could use one of many tools to make daily learning a breeze. One of the best is the Articles of the Day feature —sign up to get it in your email box. Another great option that I’ve tried is making Wikipedia’s random page your home page.
- Online Courses. Today you can learn from the best colleges and universities, from the comfort of your own home. Just a few of the online offerings: Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame.
- Chapter a day. Don’t have time for books? Read them the easy way: a chapter a day is emailed to you or added to your RSS reader by DailyLit.com, which has a growing selection of free books.
- Word a day. Improve your vocabulary by leaps and bounds through the FreeDictionary, which has some great features you can subscribe to,including these RSS feeds: Article of the Day, In the News, and This Day in History.
- Take quizzes. One of the most fun ways of learning is through games and quizzes. If you do a quick Google search, you can find quizzes on just about any topic, including math, grammar, the U.S. Constitution … you name it. Also try flashcardsfor effective learning.
- Art a day. If you’d like to learn about art, one of the best tools is Your Daily Art. Subscribe to the feed, and every day you’ll get a famous piece of art, along with some notes to help your contemplation.
- Podcasts. Not a fan of heavy reading? Get your knowledge through listening. You can listen to a course while driving, while relaxing in the bath, or while your boss thinks you’re working. Just kidding about that last one. Here are just a few of the available podcasts: UCLA podcasts, Berkeley on iTunes, Stanford on iTunes, Purdue University Podcasts, University Channel (Princeton).
- Free ebooks. Of course, there are thousands of great books online, available for free. Read them during your spare time, print them out for bathroom reading … it doesn’t matter how you use them, they’re free! Here are some sites to start you out:
Project Gutenberg, Wikibooks, Free Audio Books, Free Academic Textbooks.
- Learn languages. Tons of language courses are available online (BBC languages, FSI Language Courses to name a couple), and you can even learn them through iTunes: Chinese, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Greekand much more.
- Wikiversity. A growing number of courses are being offered through a great resource, Wikiversity. Also try BBC Learning.
Written for Dumb Little Man by Leo Babuata of Zen Habits