Notes on Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning is challenging and liberating.

It’s hard, because it’s all on you — success, failure, and vision. It’s liberating, because it gives you the freedom to learn exactly what you want, however you want, without having to conform to anyone else’s standards. It’s the purest and most effective form of education there is.

As follows are my top five rules (or perhaps tips) for being successful in your endeavors with self-directed learning:

-feed your hunger to learn. Hunger to learn is a natural human phenomenon. It’s innate in all children — it’s the thing that drives us to learn how to walk, and to talk. You need to nurture yours. Feed the fire of curiosity.

-always ask follow-up questions — to everything that you consume. Often the greatest gems of information come from the follow-up questions. Dig deep below the surface. Nurture your curiosity to know what comes if you take one step further. Never stop asking “why?”

-figure out how you best retain things — what kind of output you can add to your studies that will anchor them in your memory? Just reading content isn’t enough — you won’t retain most of what you consume. Creating some sort of output helps anchor the information in your memory — and it also builds a portfolio, which is valuable in establishing your brand as someone knowledgeable in your field of choice. What’s the best way for you to remember things? Does taking notes work? Audio recordings? Something organized, like articles or podcasts? Some sort of project?

-give yourself free reign to follow your curiosity, paired with discipline to keep going when your raw inspiration wanes. One of my favorite quotes is by Rumi, and goes as follows: “Follow every call that excites your spirit.” With self-directed learning, this should be your modus operandi. Follow everything that excites you! Conversely, know that natural curiosity can’t carry you forever, and if you want to obtain knowledge at a deep level, you’ll have to slog through even when that initial rush of fascination dies. Learn how to keep yourself on track and maintain discipline, even when it’s hard.

-be honest with yourself about standards and achievements. Goals and metrics are your friend. When you’re self-directed, there are no presupposed metrics — what is enough? Figure out what you consider to be mastery in your field, what you consider to be working knowledge, and what you consider to be your target. Holding that in mind will keep you focused, and significantly more effective.

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