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Autodidacticism – Definition and Meaning
Autodidacticism is any form of self-guided and self-directed learning, i.e. learning you do without your teachers, professors, or schools and universities. This is not the studying you do because you have an exam next week – that’s panicking and cramming. No, autodidacts actually select and pursue their areas or fields of interest, relying only on their own ability to find sources and materials. They also engage with the topic at their own pace.
Top Traits of Autodidacts
Autodidacts, apart from being self-driven and motivated to expand their knowledge beyond school subjects, usually display some of these personality traits:
- They know what they want. Autodidacts don’t just learn anything that is thrown their way – they contemplate the pros and cons and what pleasure they can derive from the particular field or topic. There has to be an inherent sense of purpose to learning anything. For example, many writers read psychology books so that they can write complex, relatable characters.
- They are resourceful. Autodidacts are not deterred by simple ‘we don’t have that book’ or ‘that’s not a popular field’. If anything, they’re more likely to be motivated to study the field in-depth, and they will find ways to obtain necessary sources. Autodidacts are very flexible with their learning, and they’ll take what they can from books, magazines, internet sources, podcasts, and seminars – all for the purpose of self-education.
- They are committed and disciplined. Motivation can only get you so far, but autodidacts know that they have to stay focused on their goals via different means. Whether that means setting up reward systems or finding intrinsic motivation, autodidacticism is all about holding yourself accountable and sticking to your decisions.
- They know their learning style and use it actively. It’s good to know what kind of learning style you have in order to learn efficiently and effectively. Autodidacts capitalise greatly on this. Be it note-taking, mind mapping, or the good old reading and revising, self-learners can tap into it to pursue their interests.
- Curiosity and creativity. You can’t learn anything if you’re not curious about the world, and autodidacts love to learn. Everything can be interesting, stimulating, and inviting for an autodidact. They are also highly creative in their pursuits and can come up with their own theories and connections, supporting the learning process.
Autodidacticism in Education – How You Can Make the Most Out of Your Uni Experience
First off, in the twenty-first century, hardly anyone is a complete autodidact. The idea came about many centuries ago when people didn’t have as many resources or chances to get educated. Nowadays, many people are blessed to have access to education and online content, which makes autodidacticism more achievable.
As I said, schools and universities are great places for learning – this is where you discover what you’re good at, what interests you, and how to go about it all. Still, schools don’t cover every bit of human knowledge – because that would be a bit too much for any brain to handle. However, any project you choose yourself is a chance to self-educate.
Let’s talk about writing term papers – yeah, lots of work, but lots of learning opportunities there as well. As soon as you’ve selected a topic, you are expected to work independently with some help from your professors. What better way to become an autodidact than to select a topic you’re unfamiliar with but sounds interesting?
Scanning books in the library, reading online journals, setting up experiments, and drawing your own conclusions are all necessary skills for becoming a self-directed learner. Take your university courses as a guideline for such skills – while you do have some constraints when it comes to selecting your topics, university courses also highlight what fields of interest are available to you and how to locate your personal focal points yourself.
How Can You Develop Your Autodidacticism Skills?
Autodidacticism is not a once-in-a-blue-moon, ‘Chosen One’ thing. On the contrary, anyone can become an autodidact with a bit of effort and dedication. Here’s how:
- Find a field/topic/theme you’re interested in. Take some time to brainstorm where your spheres of curiosity are. Be they in your field of study or something entirely outside of your university life; you should be going for ideas and concepts that motivate you to start learning.
- Set some learning goals. Make a structured plan around those goals and think about learning milestones. For example, if you’re learning a new language, one of the first milestones is asking for directions (also to know how to say ‘where’s the toilet? Because let’s face it, when it’s urgent, it’s urgent). You could then proceed to order food in restaurants and so on until you reach a desired level of fluency. Set up a reward system and celebrate successes to keep yourself motivated.
- Pick and choose your materials. Autodidacticism is not about reading every piece of writing and watching every YouTube tutorial out there. It’s about choosing quality materials and being able to study smarter, not harder😉.
- Optimise your learning environment. Make sure you have a designated space for studying and all the necessary tools (stationery, notebooks, internet connection) available when you get round to it. You can also play some stimulating music to help you focus.
- Get into the learning mindset. Don’t take this as a chore that you have to do because it looks cool or others are doing it. Instead, focus on why it’s important to you and what you gain from learning about it. Personal pleasure, practical skills, or simply the desire to have more information are all equally powerful in keeping you going. Moreover, you can think of it as mastering a subject and not simply learning, as this will change your perspective on your own abilities, which will encourage you.
- Learn to think critically. Don’t just take everything you find for granted. As you get deeper into your learning, you should be able to discern what is more important to your personal goals and how it relates to what you already know. When reading a new argument, ask the famous ‘why’ and try to connect what you’re learning to real-life situations you are familiar with.
- Take breaks. Breaks are indispensable in any learning situation. If you skip them, you’re in danger of burning out, which can only result in resentment towards the topic and long-term fatigue. Instead, step away from your project now and then to let ideas settle in your mind. You’ll see that when you come back, you’ll be much more refreshed and able to view the whole thing with new eyes.
- Adopt the life- long learning attitude. You’re not running a sprint race; you’ve just entered an endless marathon. Reframing your attitude to learning as something you will do throughout your entire life is a good way to maintain motivation and move through subjects as you see fit without ever thinking about deadlines.
Some World-Famous Autodidacts
Many autodidacts have shaped history with their contributions to various fields. Here are some of the most famous names:
Sir Terry Pratchett. The award-winning fantasy novelist didn’t even finish his A-levels, but he sure rocked the world of literature! Some of his most famous works include The Colour of Magic (and the whole Discworld series), Carpet People, and Good Omens (co-authored with Neil Gaiman, yet another autodidact!).
Jimmy Hendrix. The absolute rock master on the guitar and mic never took a single singing/music lesson. He couldn’t even read notes, but he composed like gods were whispering into his ears.
Russell Crowe. Known for his roles in The Gladiator and Les Misérables, he never went to any dramatic schools – he just hopped straight onto the theatre stage.
The Wright Brothers. Wilbur and Orville Wright often moved around with their families and were home-schooled. At one point, they attended high school but didn’t receive diplomas. This, however, didn’t stop them from creating the first fully-functional modern airplane! The only thing that seemed amiss was their spelling as they couldn’t write aeroplane properly!
Leonardo da Vinci. The world would be an impoverished place if all the details of formal education had stifled da Vinci’s talent. Instead, he worked under influential artists of his time and received tutorage from the Guild of Arts. However, his engagement with science, engineering, palaeontology, and botany was entirely self-taught. And since we mentioned aeroplanes, da Vinci was one of the pioneers in research, with sketches showing elaborate ways of putting people in the sky.
Recapping Our Autodidacticism Guide
Autodidacticism is a type of self-directed learning through which you pursue various topics you have a personal vested interest in. Anyone can become an autodidact; all it takes is practising and promoting some of the following skills and traits:
- Commitment, devotion, and discipline.
- Setting goals that fit your interests.
- Adopting an appropriate learning style.
- Having a lifelong learning mindset.
- Knowing how to access and shift among multiple sources of knowledge.
Ultimately, autodidacticism is also about having fun with your learning. It’s not a competition, and it shouldn’t have anything to do with any status symbols or recognition. It is rather a way to expand your horizons, work on yourself, and enhance your skills and abilities. With that said, happy learning!