May 23, 2015

Why We Must ALL Become Autodidacts

According to Mirriam-Webster dictionary, an autodidact is a self-taught person. Now, you might ask yourself why an educator and a person with a bachelors and masters degree, obviously someone who embraced the traditional educational route and works within it, would be saying such a thing. This is because the most valuable skills in my skillset toolbox, the best things I ever learned, the most useful for my job or my life, none of this took place in the traditional classroom. This is not to say that my degrees are useless, they have some value, but I’ll be blunt, we all know the educational system is broken. Students in the United States are coming out of higher education heavily in debt without the possibility to make the same earning potential as the previous generation and many without the proper skills to actually get a job in today’s economy.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. When higher educational systems place their emphasis on making money, when decisions are made not by the teaching faculty but by the ever-growing administration, you know there is a problem. When the K-12 schools is more concerned with testing students then in inspiring them, you know there is a problem. Just watch John Oliver’s segment on standardized testing ( to really get an idea of what I’m talking about.

The educational system was designed for the industrial age, not the digital one. Sir Ken Robinson TedTalk on changing education paradigms is a good find to hear more about that subject ( You are better having a degree than not, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get a job or be prepared to get one. Nor once you have one should you stop learning. We need to always be keeping the tools in our toolkit sharp and fresh and adding to them.

Take Ownership of Your Learning

I tell my students “I can teach you how to paint, but I can’t teach you how YOU paint.” You can substitute other content areas, such as I can teach you how to write, but I can’t teach you how you write or in my case I can teach you how to design, but I can’t teach you how you design. What I mean by this is that the process of doing is more than just having learned the skills, but you have to learn these skills in order to do. Anyone can learn new skills, anyone can be an autodidact, and we all should strive to be so.

I love the quote by B.B. King, “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” We live in the age of knowledge, if we stop learning, whether we are teenagers or twenty-somethings, in our forties or beyond, if we stop learning, we stop growing. People are made to grow, learn, and evolve. If you aren’t doing this, you’ll become stuck, unmotivated, underwhelmed with life. Everyone needs to take a hold of their learning, embrace what it is you are interested in and go forth and pursue it. This can be anything, from yoga to writing, design or illustration, astronomy or philosophy, history or computer science. Find something you want to learn and challenge yourself to do it.

I call it the “Self-learning Challenge” (#selflearn). It is when you spend a chunk of everyday learning towards one theme or goal. And just like you should be paying yourself with money, you should paying yourself with time. Schedule this in as a part of your day, 15 minutes or 60 minutes, whatever you think you can manage, and consistently schedule it into your calendar. Identity your learning goals, then go out and read about it, watch about it, take an online course about it. Then take what you learn and practice, practice, practice and embrace your failures. Author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. I’m not saying you need master it, but to know something, more than the esoteric facts, you need to do it.

We cannot be helpless about our learning. This is also something we must instill into students and children. Do not limit yourself to what is being taught in the classroom, there are more than enough resources available with an internet connection and a computer or device that you can go forth to further your own learning and challenge yourself. Don’t really on someone else to find that knowledge for you and pour it into your brain. Become self-reliant, self-motivated, and self-active. Do not be passive, but take hold of your learning journey. Take a Coursera MOOC (, watch a YouTube Tutorial, take a course (, but do something.*

Take positive action towards your self-learning journey and do not be limited by what you can learn in one course or one class. You never know where your learning journey will take you. So experiment, explore, and enjoy it and maybe, just maybe, you’ll surprise yourself along the way.

*I mention these because they are a few of my favorite resources, but by no means the only ones, or the best for you.

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May 23, 2015