Self-Education: The Definitive Guide

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In this guide, you will learn how to plan, research and execute your self-learning path in the age of digital education and MOOCs.
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W

onder if you should start learning by yourself to enhance your skills? Self-education is an essential skill for self-growth in any area of your life. It helps you advance your career, relationships, self-growth, and overall knowledge about the world.

In this guide, I will show:

- What is self-education and what are the benefits.
- How to plan and execute the learning path.
- What are the methods of self-learning (MOOCs, books, etc.)

I have been teaching myself since college and it helped me to advance my career in China and Germany, learn to code, write, and grow myself.

# What is self-education?

Self-education, also known as self-learning, self-teaching, and autodidacticism, is education where you plan and execute the learning path without the help of teachers or masters. The education material itself, whether it is a lecture or a book, can be, of course, written by the expert.

The concept of self-education is a bit dated. It is not about having a formal education or teaching yourself. Society still values the degree, although it fades away gradually. For instance, my self-taught skills and knowledge were the deciding factor during my architect's career path, not the Bachelor's degree that I have. However, without it, I would struggle more to build the career that I wanted.

I consider it a skill that you have to practice throughout your life to stay relevant and knowledgeable in the fast-changing world. Even if you came from a traditional background of school and university, it is essential to **learn how to learn** on your own.

# 8 **reasons why self-education is important in 2021**

8 reasons why self-education is important

## 1. Grow and expand.

I started to blog for a simple reason. I thought that writing and teaching others will improve my knowledge about the topic.

Each topic that I write about helps me to grow in my career, and relationship.

I used to be curious about many different topics, especially the inner working.

## 2. Keep up the pace with the world.

Academic education stems from the past state of the world where knowledge remained relevant for centuries. The way of life was moving forward but very slowly until the industrial revolution happened.

Since then everything changes faster and faster.

A lot of subjects that I studied at school 6 years ago are no longer relevant in the current job market. They laid a good foundation for future expertise, but without self-learning, you would not stay competitive.

Technologies make a big impact on the way you and I live and work. That is why I started to learn programming to close the gap in my formal education. The current market is moving towards no-code solutions, however, the next step, I am afraid, will be no-people solutions.

Software that is controlled by an AI and does not need a human to operate. It is not a myth anymore that AI can take over the majority of jobs. It will come slowly, but it is inevitable, in my opinion.

That is why learning and increasing the horizon of possibilities can help you stay relevant in the world of automation and self-control tech.

## 3. Increase neuroplasticity and the brain's health.

Neuroplasticity, also knowns as brain plasticity, is the ability of neural networks to change their connections and structure through growth and reorganization.

Changes result from education, environment, learning a new skill and experience.

The more you train flexibility in neural pathways, the easier comes learning and the necessary changes. The benefits include better performance, health, and neurogenesis.

## 4. Improve your life/business/relationships skills.

The habit of learning increases neuroplasticity and lets you relearn and adapt to new variables. People grow with certain beliefs that were shaped due to their experience. They are hard to alter because numerous reinforcement made them a strong part of the character.

The good news is that the more you learn about life, business, or relationships, the easier is to shift your mind and be open to the changes. The opposite is true as well. Lack of new information and skills reinforces the existing synapses and makes you see the world through the narrow prism of what you had learned before.

Try to be open, learn new ways, and implement them in your daily life.

## 5. Learn the world better.

A personality that is fully developed in all aspects is a good thing to strive for.

Well-roundedness helps to draw your map of the world as accurate to [reality](https://www.maray.ai/posts/manage-conflicts#toc-reality-is-different-from-your-perception) as possible.

The reason people usually react in aggression or make a false conclusion is due to an interesting mental model called *The Map is Not the Territory*. According to the model, you draw mental maps through your experience and knowledge. However, your map is often very far from reality.

Nonetheless, you treat your map as the source of true applying it to every situation. To make your map more accurate and closer to reality, you have to learn about the world throughout all your life.

To learn more about *The Map is not the Territory* mental mode, read the [article](https://www.maray.ai/posts/manage-conflicts) I wrote about the negative reaction in conflicts.

## 6. Become more creative.

[Creativity](https://www.maray.ai/posts/what-is-creative-thinking) is the ability of the brain to make different unexpected associations. The more you know and the more your mind is expanded, the more association the brain's diffuse thinking mode can make.

For instance, those who know neuroscience and programming can use expertise from both domains to their advantage. The more unexpected and useful is the connection, the more creative people think it is.

## 7. Choose the direction you want to improve on.

Self-learning opens doors to any area you want to dive in. The internet offers endless opportunities to explore topics that you always wanted to.

You can improve your professional knowledge, learn a new skill, alter your career. You are no longer bound to a program in a university. You are the master of your schedule and the topics to learn.

Try everything you think you like before committing to a long-term formal academic education.

## 8. Learn otherwise unaccessible topics.

There were a lot of modern and relevant skills that were not taught in the university where I studied. The program had a strong base of skills that an architect needs, but little to no courses on software that is relevant in the profession.

That's how I started to learn different software and use it for my thesis work. Later, that same software landed me a job in Beijing that became a big step in my career.

Instead of blaming that my alma-mater was dated and I lacked relevant skills, I learned all the missing pieces by myself.

# Pros and cons of self-education

When you are born, you learn the world by observing it and asking questions. Throughout the youth, most people forget or suppress their curiosity and strife for discovery.

Learning the world and aligning it with your beliefs does not end with high school and college. The world keeps shifting, and changing. To advance the understanding of reality, advance life, and career, and keep your brain healthy, it's essential to learn regularly.

The advantages of self-teaching outweigh the negative sides. Flexibility in topics and schedule, and consistent self-growth are among the biggest advantages.

**Advantages of studying by yourself:**

1. You decide what to learn.
2. You choose the pace.
3. Tremendous growth.
4. Develops discipline.
5. Promotes neuroplasticity.
6. Flexible schedule and location.
7. Learn from the best.
8. Affordable.

Disadvantages include the lack of proper skills to organize, plan and execute the learning process. However, read further to find tips on planning your self-education journey.

**Disadvantages of self-education:**

1. Challenging at the beginning.
2. Requires discipline, motivation, and self-organization
3. Lack of mentorship.

# Self-education plan

To successfully learn you have to know how to organize your study, how to execute and be consistent and how to apply the knowledge and improve on it.

In this section, I will show you how to plan and organize the learning process that you will enjoy and make it a habit.

## Step 1. Research.

A lot of topics already have learning paths and lists of useful resources to start with. Find the best online courses, top books on the subject, blogs with useful articles.

For instance, when I researched about coding learning paths, I found a lot of useful information on topics and resources one should learn to be proficient in CS. I looked up top courses on iOS App development, chose one, and started with it. I even wrote an article about [learning to code](https://www.maray.ai/posts/swift-as-the-first-programming-language-to-learn).

Of course, you'll learn more and adjust the course of action, but in the beginning, it is sufficient. Overplanning means procrastination.

## Step 2. Set a schedule.

It depends on your free time, the level of commitment, and other factors.

To set an optimized timeframe, think about when do you need the skill or the knowledge in time and plan from there.

For instance, I knew the first course I took was 30 hours long and I could either finish it in a month or extend it for longer. My sabbatical allowed me to invest more time in the study and I was able to finish in less than 3 weeks. If I plan it now, it would be 3-5 hours a week, considering my regular job.

Decide what's important and cut other activities to make space for your self-development. "I have no time" is an excuse for your [midbrain's reward system](https://www.maray.ai/posts/motivation-reward-system-economy).

## Step 3. Build a self-learning habit.

Learning by yourself is a useful habit to have in your arsenal. It allows you to improve your skills, find answers, fill gaps to advance your career, and much more.

If you learn every day for 20 minutes and improve your skills or knowledge by only 1%, you will **grow by 365% in a year**!

That growth will also promote other positive changes in your life, such as discipline, and habit building skills. Your conscious rational mind will take over the ancient limbic part of the brain and assist you in leading your life in the direction you *really* want to.

**Here are 4 hacks to make your morning ritual as easy to start as possible.**

1. **Make it easy.** Your brain does not want changes until it is beneficial to your well-being and survival. Changes in the neural structure are expensive energy-wise. They will not be motivated until it is either easy to perform or have instant rewards. Anything long-term is considered high-cost. The limbic system in the brain prefers to be satisfied now than later. Therefore, start small and make it easy.
2. **Make it satisfactory.** The ancient part of the brain, the limbic system, wants rewards and satisfaction. That is why instant gratification is so addictive. It is low-cost and highly pleasurable for the brain's reward system. To make a habit stick, you have to make it appealing. Reward yourself with something enjoyable once you finish your ritual or a part of it. For instance, my reward is a breakfast with a coffee plus the checkboxes in the journal I keep. It is satisfactory to have all the boxes checked. However, there will be days when you cannot complete your morning ritual. It brings the following point.
3. **Be consistent.** Even when you cannot go through the whole process, try to make the bare minimum. Repetition is more important than quality. To make the habit stick, you have to perform it for at least 60-70 days. Once you automate a task, you can work on the quality. It is okay to miss a day. The key is to start your next streak immediately. Once you miss 2 days straight, the chances are you are going to lose the grip.
4. **Increment the complexity.** Once you feel comfortable, make the ritual more challenging. The more you repeat, the more neural connections you form. More neural synapses mean more automation and less spent energy. Increasing complexity promotes growth but is still manageable and not energy-consuming.

## Step 4. Apply what you learn

There are two reasons why self-help books are [useless](https://www.maray.ai/posts/why-self-help-books-are-useless). They either do not give a step by step guide for the readers to execute the insights or they teach common knowledge wrapped in beautiful paper.

To see the results of your learning, you have to apply the knowledge in real life, whether it is a project during the course or situations in your life.

For instance, when I started to learn to code, I stopped watching the first course halfway through and started to build my first app. It's when I realized how little I retained to form the lectures.

The sooner you start to apply the knowledge the better you will understand.

self education plan

# Learn how to learn

Meta-learning is learning about the process of learning. To increase productivity and learning speed, it's crucial to know tips about processing new information, memory and retention techniques.

Most of the schools do not teach the art of learning. I did not know about the brain's [neuroplasticity](https://www.maray.ai/posts/what-is-neuroplasticity). I had no idea that I can increase my retention rate by [active recall and spaced repetition](https://www.maray.ai/posts/notion-active-recall-spaced-repetition). I was not taught how to tame procrastination and to [build a habit](https://www.maray.ai/posts/morning-ritual).

Neuroscience gives new answers to old problems and questions. The more science makes progress, the more we know about the brain and the underlying process. To make learning effective, you should always explore new ways of studying and building skills.

One of the courses I took on meta-learning was Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley. It's a free course on Coursera. I encourage you to take it to build a general understanding of the processes in the brain and studying.

You can also read the summary of [the Learning How to Learn](https://www.maray.ai/posts/here-is-what-you-can-learn-from-learning-how-to-learn-course) course instead.

# Self-education methods and resources

There are several ways to teach yourself. Most of the time, an expert or a knowledgeable person will share the information with you.

Your responsibility is to learn how to motivate yourself without the pressure of grades and degrees. Your consciousness has to rise to a level where intrinsic motivation becomes stronger than fear and failure.

> Self-education is mostly about learning how to motivate yourself with long-term rewards, rather than pressure and responsibility of grades and marks.

It is challenging but possible. I was a long time procrastinator who used to motivate mostly by fear of failure and shame. Slowly, I learned how to stay always [motivated and develop discipline](https://www.maray.ai/posts/motivation-reward-system-economy).

Once you become conscious about your goal and the long-term rewards, the methods of self-education will become merely a tool. It would not matter whether it is a course from a reputable university or from a person who shares his or her insights on youtube.

Here is the list of best sources for self-learning.

## 1. Online courses

MOOCs and other online education frameworks still utilize the academic structure with homework, assignments, and projects. It's one of the best methods to learn something new in a structured fashion.

Platforms such as [edx.org](http://edx.org/), [coursera.com](http://coursera.com/), and Udemy offer high-quality content from famous universities and experts.

I learned Python programming on Edx, Neural Networks from Coursera, and iOS development on Udemy. All of them are a good start in your self-learning journey.

## 2. Youtube

Youtube is another great source of high-quality material. Most people think of it as an entertainment platform. However, there is a ton of high-quality content from channels like Khan Academy, Kurgesagt, and more.

For instance, in this article, where I share my experience [learning to code](https://www.maray.ai/posts/swift-as-the-first-programming-language-to-learn) in Swift, I explained how I found a better free course on youtube than on paid platforms.

Many universities, such as Stanford and Harvard, share their courses on youtube for free.

Another advantage of youtube is that you can find answers to your questions that are not covered in an academic course. Lots of people share their insight and you can learn from them for free.

## 3. Books

Books are a treasure of our civilization. It's a more traditional way to pass knowledge, but still valuable as it always was.

There are a couple of downsides that I want to address.

First, reading a book does not mean learning from it. Most likely, you will forget most of the insights shortly.

**Solution: make notes and use active recall and spaced repetition to increase the retention rate.**

Second, a lot of books share valuable information but do not give a framework to apply that knowledge in real life.

**Solution: use platforms like Notion or Evernote to store the information and apply it systematically in your life.**

Last but not least, a lot of books contain common knowledge. It takes time to find a book full of wisdom.

**Solution: use reviews and top lists to filter books that are not worth reading.**

## 4. Articles

Articles are similar to youtube videos. It's harder to find a full course written in different articles, but they are a great source to find answers and gain insight.

Another way to learn from them is to save it for later read. Bookmarking never worked for me, therefore, I started to use tools like Pocket to save the reading for later.

Once you establish a habit of reading your saved articles, you will learn new and valuable information.

## 5. Help others

Platforms like Stack Overflow and Quora help not only those that ask the question but also those who give the opinion.

Teaching is not an easy task. You have to frame your thoughts in a simple manner to convey the ideas and let them grow inside someone else's mind.

Feynman's technique is a mental model based on an idea to simplify your answer to a degree that a 6-grade student can understand you.

The more you refine, the more you weed out irrelevant information and form the knowledge on first principles, which increases your expertise as a consequence.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to learn and help others. Helping and teaching others is one of the best methods to learn.

self education methods and resources

# Final thoughts

The first step is always hard. Especially considering that most likely you were not taught how to self-educate yourself.

However, once you get going and learn something new every day, you'll expand in many areas of your life.

To sum up, build a successful habit by starting small, making it rewarding, and staying consistent. Now that you know everything you need to start teaching yourself, you have no other excuse than planning your journey and executing it!