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What is an Autodidact?

9 mins read

Autodidactism: The ultimate guide to becoming a self learner

Ask any successful person how they feel about education, and almost all of them will tell you that education was a big part of their success. But with the skyrocketing cost of college, advanced education is becoming out of reach for a growing number of people. So how do you maintain and expand on your education without sinking into a lifetime of student loan debt? Enter the world of a little known practice called autodidactism.

In this very long article, we will explain what an autodidact is, why you should be one, and how to do it.

What is an autodidact?

So what is an autodidact? An autodidact is someone who studies new topics on their own in a deep and comprehensive manner. There are a lot of people who are curious about the world around them, but autodidacts take it a step further.

Instead of just visiting a museum or reading nonfiction books, an autodidact will get a textbook, perhaps even at the college or graduate school level, and take notes about what they learn. Depending on the field of study and their budget, an autodidact might even do some sort of lab work involving tinkering, experimentation, and hands on learning. The goal of autodidactism is to gain a deep understanding of the topic through self study.

Autodidactism vs lifelong learning

Autodidactism is related to the concept of lifelong learning. While some people bundle them together as one concept, we prefer to draw a distinction between them.

A lifelong learner is someone who keeps their mind active well into their adult life and old age. They probably read nonfiction, watch some documentaries now and then, and enjoy museums. They just stay curious and enthusiastic about any opportunity to learn something.

An autodidact takes it further than that. They don’t just learn, they actively study and take a deep dive into a subject, maybe even reaching a point where they can contribute new knowledge to the field.

If you want to use a fitness analogy, a lifelong learner is someone who lives a generally healthy lifestyle, while an autodidact is more like an amateur or even professional bodybuilder. The difference is really just a matter of depth.

Why become an autodidact?

At this point, you might be wondering why you should become an autodidact. We would argue that you not only should become an autodidact, but also that the world is reaching a point where autodidactism will become a necessity. In fact, we might have reached that stage already.

Many of the jobs available on job websites are positions that could be automated within the next decade. Cashiering and manufacturing jobs are already being handed over to machines, and truck driving will probably be automated within the next decade. The point isn’t to make a claim as to whether or not this is fair or right, but simply to say that it is happening either way.

The economy of the future will require people who can continue to learn new skills and continue to adapt. Everyone will be an entrepreneur to some extent, and that necessarily means you need to innovate. Those who are willing and able to pursue self directed learning are the people who will get ahead.

Famous autodidacts

Some of the great creators and thinkers throughout history have been autodidacts. Just to list a few:

Ray Bradbury

Author of novels in many fields, especially known for his science fiction works. Graduated high school during the Great Depression and couldn’t afford college. Instead, he went to the library 3 days per week for 10 years to continue his education.

The Wright Brothers

Invented the airplane. Neither one of them completed high school. They owned a bicycle shop to make a living and self studied aeronautics as a hobby.

Henry Ford

Founder of the Ford Motor Company. He did not attend college.

George Bool

Self taught mathematician and philosopher who made numerous contributions to both fields. In particular, he developed the field of boolean algebra, which lies at the heart of all computer logic.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Considered the father of microbiology. Mostly self-taught, he developed microscopes that were more powerful than anything else at the time. Used his microscopes to make some of the first ever observations of many common microbes.

Autodidactism is not dead

Many of the famous autodidacts listed above lived a long time ago. When reading about autodidacts from a few centuries ago, it is easy to criticize autodidactism as an outdated concept. You might be wondering if autodidactism even still works in our modern world.

Engineering applicants at Google are no longer required to have a college education. The book “Biopunk”, by Marcus Wohlsen describes a similar DIY movement that is taking place in the world of biotechnology.

Autodidactism is not an outdated concept. It is still possible to learn new skills and use them to build something meaningful without any formal training.

How to be an autodidact

If you have read this far, you are probably interested in autodidactism enough to become one yourself. Remember that autodidactism is really just the practice of deep, self-driven studying of a certain topic, so becoming an autodidact is mostly a matter of just picking up a textbook and getting started. But with that in mind, here are a few tips that you might find useful.

Tools for autodidacts

There are some tools available that will help you on your autodidactic endeavors. I won’t bore you with the obvious tools like Google and Wikipedia, but here some useful sites you might no know about. They are divided up by the goals they can help you accomplish.

Free books and textbooks

Project Gutenberg

Under copyright law, book copyrights expire after a certain number of years (the number of years varies by country). At that point, the book enters the public domain. Project Gutenberg hosts the full text of thousands of public domain works for free download.

Librivox

Similar idea as Project Gutenberg, except Librivox makes public domain books available as audiobooks thanks to the work of volunteers who read the books out loud and record it. The quality of the recordings can vary, but some are very good.

Wikibooks

From the makers of Wikipedia, Wikibooks offers free textbooks about a wide selection of topics. Most are incomplete, but this page lets you browse by their level of completion and find the ones that are done or almost done.

Free courses

Khan academy

This incredible resource is listed first for a reason. Khan Academy offers high quality video courses for free. They offer subjects ranging from kindergarten math to advanced finance, cryptography, and even LSAT preparation.

YouTube

There is an impressive amount of free educational content to check out on YouTube. There aren’t a lot of organized courses, but if you have a specific question you need help with you can usually find a video about it on YouTube.

Open Courseware

Many colleges including Stanford and MIT now post their lectures online for free. The easiest way to find them is through the Open Education Consortium. Just be sure to check the date, because some of them can be a bit old, especially the ones from MIT.

Paid courses

Treehouse

Most of the courses on Treehouse are about computer programming, but they have a large selection of courses within that field. A monthly fee of $25 gives you unlimited access to their courses.

Research papers

Google scholar

This little-known section of Google will only return search results from peer-reviewed journals, patent applications, and legal documents. Excellent for science and engineering topics.

DeepDyve

DeepDyve lets you pay one monthly fee of $49 to get unlimited reading from thousands of scientific journals. That might sound like a lot of money, but it really isn’t when you consider that a single paywalled journal article can normally cost $10-15 or more just to read it.

Don’t forget the library

With the entire internet at your disposal, it’s easy to forget about your local library. In fact, a trip to your library will often be far more productive than hours of surfing the web.

This is especially true if you want to learn about business, marketing, and related fields, but also for many other fields. A lot of the content you find online for those fields is formulaic, repetitive, and of very little value. But if you browse the shelves at your library you can find many hidden gems.

For other fields like science and computer programming, most of the good stuff is online. The printing cycle for physical books simply can’t keep up with the speed at which STEM fields are moving forward.

Math is an exception. I’ve found that a real math textbook usually has better explanations of the subject and much longer list of practice problems than what you can find online. And unless you are at the very cutting edge, math doesn’t change very much so math textbooks age well.

After spending some time as an autodidact yourself, you will start to get a feel for which topics are best to search online and which ones are best to get from a book. Just try a bit of everything and see what works for you.

How to remember what you learn

Whether someone is learning on their own or as part of a formal class setting, one of the greatest challenges to the learning process is the issue of trying to remember what you learn. This is where Lernabit comes in handy. Lernabit is specifically designed for autodidacts to solve the challenges of learning on your own.

By using Lernabit to keep track of what you learn, Lernabit can remind you to review it and make the memorization process a lot easier. Also, certain feeds in Lernabit will prioritize the notes you already have created about that topic that are due for review.

For example, when you search for a hashtag, any notes you have with that hashtag that are due for review will show up first. That’s cool because it helps you recall what you already know about the topic before learning something new, which provides context that helps the new information sink in. This and other features on Lernabit are carefully crafted to help you remember everything you learn.

How to stay motivated as an autodidact

At some point, everyone loses the motivation to study for brief periods of time. Sometimes you get tired, sometimes you are too busy, but in any case, it’s normal to lose motivation sometimes.

If you need a break from studying for a day or two, that’s fine. In fact, some time away from studying can help the information take hold in your brain. By leaving your studies to go enjoy a hobby, exercise, or do something creative, you can help the new knowledge form connections with existing information in your brain. So losing motivation sometimes isn’t really a bad thing as long as you get back on track soon before you start to forget what you have learned.

One of the hidden benefits of Lernabit is that it helps you stay motivated to keep learning. By actively reminding you to come back each day to study, Lernabit helps yo retain what you have already learned with just a few minutes of studying, even if you can’t find the motivation to do any new studying that day.

How to avoid becoming a quack

If not done properly, autodidactism can quickly turn into quackery. You’ve probably seen what I mean before. When I talk about quackery, I refer to the people who claim all types of miracle inventions and breakthroughs. I’m talking about the guy who claims to have built a perpetual motion machine or a cure for cancer that won’t get funding because “nobody understands it”. Becoming “that guy” is one of the risks you take when you learn something on your own without the guidance of someone who is already at the level you want to reach.

But in any field, those at the cutting edge are necessarily autodidacts. If you are discovering something that has never been known before, or if you are building something that has never been created, you can’t get guidance from someone who is already at that level because there is no such person. So how does an autodidact push the limits of their field without becoming a crackpot?

First, get rid of the idea that autodidactism and outside instruction are mutually exclusive. Just because you are learning something on your own, that does not mean you can’t learn from other people. In fact, that is exactly what you are doing as an autodidact anyway. If you study a textbook, somebody had to write it. If you read a scientific paper, somebody did that research. If you visit a museum, there was a curator who put together the exhibits with an intent to teach something. So don’t think that autodidactism requires you to be an intellectual lone wolf. Indeed, self directed learning with a dash of collaboration is precisely what is going on at the highest levels of academia.

Second, keep an open mind. Becoming an autodidact requires discipline, but it also requires courage. It takes courage to approach a tough academic subject without a teacher. It also takes courage to admit when you don’t understand something or when you are wrong. You absolutely must keep an open mind and be willing to change your viewpoints as you gain more understanding of a subject. If you admit when you are wrong and take that as a sign of poor understanding of the topic, you will eventually gain a deeper knowledge of your field. But if you hold on to misunderstandings and try to warp reality to line up with your biases, you put yourself on the fast track to loony land.

Conclusion

A true lifelong learner realizes that education is not something you get and forget about. It is an ongoing process that must continue throughout life. I hope this introduction to autodidactism has inspired you to pursue lifelong learning and given you some tools to help get you started on making your education a lifelong experience.


Original Article here.

Color Your Self Calm | Ep. 19

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1 min read

Recently, without thinking twice, I picked up a crayon and began to color my self calm with my kids.

It was only after a couple of minutes that I came to a few realizations:

1) This is therapeutic and calming. This moment of zen was short lived, because I also realized;

2) I don’t even have kids and I was coloring by myself. But it did get the curious and creative hamsters on their respective wheels and here we are.

It’s May. And according to NAMI, the National Alliance to Mental Illness, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

During this show we’re gonna gleefully talk about the Curious | FIRST EDITION | Coloring Pages now available FOR DIGITAL DOWNLOAD EXCLUSIVELY on staycurious.org.

We also take a look at how coloring can offer therapeutic benefits to people of all ages. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, coloring has a lot of benefits for your mental health.

Many books tout the benefits of coloring — a thing that kids have known for ages. Coloring can help you channel your inner artist, de-stress and bring a sense of peace. But is there truly a benefit to coloring for adults? And what does this pastime do to our brains to bring about such pleasure and calm?

Grab your favorite crayons, markers print a few pages of our digital download, and color your self calm.

Intro Music: Midnight Sun by Cleveland’s own Mr.Gnome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening Time: 23 minutes

Sources: Here, here and here.

Fashion, Body Positivity & Eating Disorders | Ep. 18

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1 min read

This week’s episode includes a wonderful conversation with three women who are raising awareness about body positivity and eating disorders.

Youngstown State University’s Fashion Merchandising Department will be hosting the annual everyBODY Fashion Show on Wednesday, April 28th at 6PM.

The show promotes inclusivity for all ages, sexualities and body-types. The show is dedicated to Danielle Peters, a former merchandising, fashion and interiors student of Youngstown State University. Peters died due to complications from bulimia in the summer of 2012.

Special Guests: Professor Jennifer Frank, ShaCora Smith & Nina Schubert

Professor Jennifer Frank is the Merchandising Fashion & Interiors professor at Youngstown State University.

ShaCora Smith is a sophomore at Youngstown State University and one of the students coordinating the fashion show.

Nina Schubert is a student at Kent State University and a mental health advocate.

Intro Music: Midnight Sun by Cleveland’s own Mr.Gnome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening Time: 50 minutes

Who is staycurious.org? (Meet Heikki) | Ep. 17

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1 min read

Who is staycurious.org?

Meet Heikki.

Your Chancellor of Curiosity.

Buckle up and listen to the founder share his story of being a human-tube with teeth who found his immortality project and wants to inspire others to find theirs.

It was an experimental show. We videoed.  And we hope you enjoi this behind the scenes look.

Intro Music: Midnight Sun by Cleveland’s own Mr.Gnome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening Time: 48 minutes

New to the podcast? Listen and download our  full catalog of shows here.

Want to support this project? Check out the staycurious.org Shop.

Saint Patrick, Shamrocks & Shenanigans | Ep. 15

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1 min read

March 17. A day where many are VIP’s (Very Irish People).

So many celebrating and getting sham-rocked. But do you know anything about this holy day? Or is it holiday?

Saint Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Blue is his favorite color. Not green.

Did you know we celebrate his death not his birth?

Why are there no female leprechauns?

Wondering, “Where is a St. Patrick’s Day parade near me,” here are your answers by state.

Find your Guinness Gang, press your luck, and join us on this whiskey business of a podcast.

Sorry for no music this episode. We ran out of lucky charms this week.

(Original Release Date: 16 March 2021)

Listening Time: 21 minutes

5 New Year’s resolutions for 2022 (even in a pandemic)

3 mins read

As we usher in another new year in the throes of a global pandemic, it’s time to call BS on diets that don’t serve us and habits that distract us from what we want to be doing with our lives. For 2022, I’m playing hardball by tossing soft and meeting you where you are — in your home, trying to make the best choices for your own health and that of your family.

New Year’s resolutions are personal and, crucially, optional — you don’t necessarily need to make any. But if you’re inspired to make small changes that could have big impacts on your overall well-being, here’s a list that might help.

Lean into a ‘slow morning’ routine

Think about the best possible start to your day. Does it involve savoring a cup of coffee while you read a book? Working out as the sun rises? Going for a quiet walk around the block? Listening to music or playing with your dog? Whatever it is, use the New Year as a new opportunity to refine your morning routine and slow it down for the things you love. Everyone’s ideal “slow morning” will be different, but carving out time for things that bring you purpose early in the day can lead to a more present work day, whether it requires waking up 30 minutes earlier or just reprioritizing your time in the AM.

Stop checking your phone first thing in the morning

We live, communicate and work through our phones, so it makes sense that they’re the first things we turn to when we open our eyes. And it doesn’t take much scientific study to conclude that scrolling social media or going through your inbox isn’t the best way for your brain to start (or end) the day.

But there is some science behind it. As Forbes reported, by reaching for your phone first thing in the morning, you’re “priming your brain for distraction” and disrupting the brain’s flow of different waves that allow you to be more creative and purposeful about your day. Staying on your phone for work-related matters hours after signing off can also inhibit you from getting a good night’s rest.

If you’re like many people who’ve considered cutting back screen time, there’s no better time than 2022 to start. There are different ways to improve screen hygiene, like using blue light glasses for work and reading a book instead of scrolling through your phone before bed. To cut back on screen time this year and reorganize your screen time, check out these tips.

Find a diet that keeps you satisfied (and won’t restrict you)

Finding an eating pattern that’s both intuitive and satisfies your nutritional needs can be tough, and daunting New Year’s resolutions that require you to completely switch gears for a diet that might be downright unhelpful.

This year, try subscribing to the advice of nutritionists and experts that work with you to create sustainable meal habits (also called the “anti-diet dietitians”). Chances are, you’ll start honoring food as the fuel our body needs to live and be healthy, make nutritious choices accordingly and become more expert about what your body needs.

Restricting calories can sometimes trigger binge eating, which can make you feel ill or lead to unhealthy habits. If you want to eat healthier but don’t want to sign up for a restrictive diet, make sure your plate is full of things your body needs first.

Practice your most creative hobby every day

In 2009, caregiver Bronnie Ware wrote a blog post detailing the top five regrets of dying people. A lot of news outlets reported on the list, it turned into a book and even inspired a TED talk. The number one thing on the list? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Many people may push aside their more creative pursuits because it doesn’t make them money or they feel they don’t have the time.

For 2022, I suggest you make the time, whether it’s 10 minutes of active daydreaming or an hour of active crafting, writing music, poetry, painting, graphic designing, figure skating, playing chess or anything else that inspires you. If you’ve been keeping it on the back burner, imagining the day you’ll have the time, 2022 is your year to make the first step.

Treat yourself the way you treat other people

Be as understanding with yourself as you are with other people: It’s the inverse of the Golden Rule. If your friend set a goal for themselves to exercise for 15 minutes each day, but they missed two days in a row, would you consider them a failure or would you tell them to just pick it back up tomorrow?

Probably the former, because unless you’re a robot, you know that someone experiencing a hiccup or less-than-productive day doesn’t undermine the value of their goal and all of the work they’ve put in so far. Sometimes, people just need a break to reconvene and figure out the best way to fit their new passion into their busy schedule. So why can’t we see that in ourselves?

Many people fall into the trap of thinking something has to be done perfectly or not done at all. While you may have already heard the phrase “done is better than perfect,” it’s worth repeating here. Picture it in the context of someone else’s creative journey, then give yourself the same space and grace. By learning to understand yourself the way you understand others, you’ll also start practicing self-compassion and you might just end up accomplishing more in the process.


Original Article and Author available here.

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