No matter what your background or interests, it has never been more important to integrate ongoing learning into your approach to life. One of the most valuable ways to do this is to become a devoted autodidact. An autodidact is someone who couples a passion for learning with the determination to use the resources at his or her disposal.
What Does It Mean to Be an Autodidact?
Being an autodidact does not mean simply reading a lot of books. Many people both inside and outside traditional structures of higher learning read dozens or even hundreds of books every year. You can’t become a true autodidact unless you engage with the right kind of material and applies it to your life effectively. You can read thousands of self-help books, for example, without necessarily improving in knowledge.
While a voracious appetite for the written word is vital, it is not the only foundation on which an autodidact builds his or her learning. Ultimately, learning should make a difference in how you think and perform. This requires aspiring self-learners to begin with an understanding of the best way for them to learn. Sometimes, this knowledge comes from formal schooling — but it, too, can be self-taught through enough trial and error.
An autodidact not only seeks out a great deal of material, but does so in such a way that its lessons will resonate over time. You must continuously seek the outlines of knowledge in a field of interest and look for ways to expand on acquired knowledge in a structured, effective way. For example, you would not try to learn a foreign language by just reading a dictionary. You would need multiple kinds of assets and the skill to draw connections between them.
With a methodical approach grounded in self-knowledge, autodidacts are capable of developing insight equal to someone with formal education. However, this requires stamina, diligence, and enough genuine interest in a subject to continue your effort when going deeper and deeper into the complex details of any field of study.
The Importance of Self-Learning for Careers
In today’s fast-paced economy, more people are discovering that lifelong learning is crucial to their career plans. Research has shown, for example, that the average young person will make four job changes by age 32. As tectonic shifts rattle the economy, older people will also be called upon to look for ways to improve their skills, whether that involves retraining for a new discipline or building upon existing credentials through graduate study.
In such an environment, self-learning is a crucial way to foster the continuous development necessary to remain employed. Self-learning does face some challenges — bosses typically prefer to see certain credentials to provide evidence of an employee’s learning — but energetic autodidacts will hold a major advantage over those who learn only under the most systematic conditions or not at all. Applying your knowledge to real-life emerging challenges is the key.
The Health Benefits of Self-Learning
It has long been understood that learning confers health benefits on those who pursue it, even well into the golden years. For those pursuing a more traditional path, the benefits can be offset by the stress, deadline pressure, and ennui some people feel in educational institutions. By contrast, self-learning offers benefits that learners can enjoy whenever they choose.
Lifelong learning can help people stave off some of the most significant effects of aging — and the benefits may be enhanced when that learning has a strong self-directed component. A bevy of new research has connected learning to reduction in the cognitive decline brought on by age. Memory and learning outcomes improve for elders who are actively involved in learning. At the same time, risk for age-related conditions like depression and dementia decrease.
The World Health Organization has even coined the term active aging to describe the process of remaining connected with intellectual pursuits, social structures, and the community as people grow older. Life satisfaction is likely to increase when elders can access educational resources, whether alone or in a more traditional group context.
Tips for Motivation and Focus in Self-Learning
As an autodidact you have a special responsibility to yourself — generally, nobody else will be around to ensure you stay on track, put in the necessary hours, and self-evaluate fairly. However, there are some tactics you can use to improve learning outcomes:
Set Time Aside for Learning
Many different lifestyle changes begin with setting aside a sufficient amount of time. For example, anyone who wants to start exercising more, practice meditation, or learn to play a musical instrument will probably start by setting aside time. At least an hour, several times a week, is best — less than this and it may be difficult to detect progress.
Learn When You Feel Best
You are the master of your own “classroom.” This starts by recognizing when to study to get the most out of the time invested. Some people feel most clear-headed in the morning, while others are most alert at night. Some are energized by a full meal, while others feel tired and distracted. Listen to your body and study at the right time, but do it consistently.
Keep Track of Progress
Without grades, essays, and tests, how can you track progress? You might consider using some of these mechanisms — there are programs to develop multiple choice tests from virtually any kind of material, and anyone can commit to writing a report. However, it doesn’t have to be this complex: You can simply keep a journal to record what topics you focused on, how long you spent, and what you felt you learned. Looking back, you’ll see your efforts made a difference.
Use Your Learning Style
Self-teaching means no one to tell you your learning style is wrong. Some people remain effective by reading and drilling note cards throughout their lives. Others might prefer to listen to recorded lectures. Still others might look for hands-on projects that they can pursue to demonstrate skill mastery. Do whatever works best for you.
Becoming an autodidact has clear benefits. It can enhance your career, improve your health, and enrich your life in countless other ways. Luckily, anyone can become an autodidact. All it takes is identifying your intellectual interests, investing time and energy, and discovering what learning techniques work best for you.
At Ohio University, we understand how important an MBA can be to advancing your career. We also know that your MBA should be affordable, engaging, and academically rigorous. That’s why we have designed an online MBA that is comprehensive and challenging, yet flexible to fit your lifestyle. When you earn your MBA online from Ohio University you are making a conscious decision to improve your professional value and position yourself for current and future business opportunities.