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Mastering Self-Education

By ANNA KARLOVA - January 9 2024
Mastering Self-Education

Your Path to Learning on Your Terms

By Anna Karlova

Surely, every person studying a new field asks themselves this question – “What material should I read on the subject?”. The problem is that no matter which book you take; it won’t provide much because it won’t be part of a systematic learning process. It’s a piece of knowledge detached from the foundation. One book cannot replace years of education. 

Self-education is usually challenging because it lacks structure and coherence. Even if you build your education solely on textbooks, you still need to know what to read and in what order. If you want to learn independently more effectively, you’ll need a developed algorithm of actions.

The importance of preparation

It’s impossible to know everything, no matter how much we want to delve into thousands of things. There is a constant time constraint. Therefore, it’s crucial to carefully choose where we’ll invest our resources: money, time, and effort. At the initial stage, it’s helpful to ask a few questions.

Question #1: Will this information still be relevant in 10 years? 

The answer to this question can be somewhat debatable, as some information quickly becomes outdated due to the growth in the field. For example, if you decide to study a programming language, it’s likely to be out of date in 10 years. The language might disappear from the market, but the foundation you gain will remain: the programming logic, methods, and approaches. Most of the information you can learn now, such as news, expert forecasts, and market analyses, won’t be relevant. If you’re not planning to use this information presently and are studying it for the future, it merely creates an illusion of understanding. Therefore, don’t clutter your mind with things that will become 100% irrelevant in just a week. Otherwise, in 10 years, you’ll know nothing.

Question #2: Is this information cross-industry, and can you apply it no matter what you do? 

For instance, communication skills, time management skills, project management, financial and marketing skills, and much more are knowledge that will be useful no matter what you do in life. For example, look at a housemaker – doing repairs, improving a child’s educational process, managing the budget, building good relationships with a partner and oneself, and keeping an eye on health. All of this is cross-industry knowledge that’s useful in many situations.

Question #3: Will this knowledge help me transition to the next level of life right now? 

The subject you’re considering studying might be specialized, but you deem it necessary for your personal growth. To give an example, you decide to study Data Analysis. Most likely, the technical skills you acquire won’t be relevant in 10 years. But if you connect your future precisely with this industry, if it will lead you to your transformation and desired realization, then the answer to this question will be positive.

Moving to the learning process 

Of course, obtaining all the information on the topic that interests you is impossible. Moreover, we intake data in an unorganized manner. To explain, photos from someone’s vacation whom we don’t know come right after complex scientific or philosophical texts. Things of varying difficulty and importance pile up, and as a result, nothing remains in memory. Such occurs because being engaged, getting inspired, and thinking are different states of the brain. It cannot switch between them fast and requires the separation of information streams.

Step one – distributing information. 

For instance, create separate accounts on different social networks for entertainment, creativity, news, and learning. You can have a separate YouTube account exclusively for helpful videos and watch it when you’re ready to consume precisely that content. Thus, the YouTube algorithm on this account will never show you entertaining videos but will recommend scientific lectures, conferences, compilations, and so on. Only the content needed for learning, which you carefully listen to during the time set for it.

Step two – seeking university courses and textbooks.

After choosing what to learn and distributing the information, the next step is to acquire basic knowledge. The best way to gain a fundamental base in any field is to start with university courses and textbooks. For years now, worldwide universities have been uploading full-fledged learning programs to the internet. There are two websites where you can find almost everything you need: EdX and Coursera. Most universities offer free education if no one will check your work, and you won’t receive a certificate in the end. For personal and non-professional purposes, this is very convenient and an excellent start for building a foundation. 

You can find books on Amazon or other online bookstores by looking through reviews, ratings, and recommendations based on what other people are buying on the same topic. And of course, don’t forget about the library. The more you study, the more advanced your books will become, and you’ll start searching for recommended books written by scholars you’ve learned about. Gradually, you’ll move from beginner publications to university textbooks. 

Step three – utilizing YouTube. 

Now that we’ve assembled a list of courses and textbooks, we can explore what else is interesting on YouTube. Short, engaging, and simple episodes on the topic of interest are helpful in the initial stages, as we need someone to explain things straightforwardly. Filtering through playlists allows us to find entire collections of videos. Many YouTube users create playlists for themselves, and we can benefit from these results. The advantage of such playlists is that we can find videos from professional channels and universities that have very few views and subscribers, making it nearly impossible to discover them through search. However, playlists will help us find gems.

What’s next?

After you’ve built your foundation, you might want to move on to studying academic papers. Usually, by this stage, you will already have a list of quality sources because lecturers in academic fields often reference them. Each industry has its resources. Currently, useful and popular options include Sage Journals, Google Scholar, and Annual Reviews. Typically, these are sufficient to start. On these platforms, you can explore research and new hypotheses, a list of all the studies, and if something interests you, you can delve deeper and learn more.

You’ll quickly amass several hundred hours of lectures and additional reading material. Such will be enough for years of in-depth study. If you’re tackling something complex, it’s crucial to maintain order in your mind. Mind maps are ideal tools for structuring information. You can create them yourself or use ready-made templates that you can find on Google. During the learning process, you’ll add to them, make some changes, and expand upon them. In this case, mind maps become a structured learning plan tailored to your individual needs, helping you track the process, see the subject systematically, and study it gradually but effectively.

In self-directed learning, it’s important not to scatter your attention. Choose one topic, delve into it, and only then move on to the next. Don’t try to take all the courses simultaneously, don’t listen to all the playlists, and don’t immediately follow every link you come across. May your self-directed learning process be as efficient as possible.

This article was written by Anna Karlova, who loves learning throughout her life and has a strong passion for Data Analytics.

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