How to Learn Anything On Your Own

Young adult and her cat learning something new together. Cat is making sure online resources are credible. Thank you, cat. Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels.

Your career is defined by your skills and how you’ve used them, not by any external measure of your progress.

Julie Zhuo

Have you ever fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole? Luckily, the hours many of us spent on Wikipedia were not a waste. Lifelong learning is critical for survival in today’s job market. While earning a degree or attending a bootcamp might get you kick-started in a field, you ultimately need to chart your own course to keep up with folks who have their eyes set on the same prize. Binge-reading Wikipedia is a perfect example of intrinsic learning, a quality that keeps you learning outside of a classroom. Knowing how to teach yourself in a way that’s guided by intrinsic motivation gives you an advantage over those who have trouble learning without a system to guide them. Read on if you’re itching to get started with self-education.

Have a Plan

Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step. You’ve identified a gap in your knowledge or a skill you don’t have, and the next step is making a conscious decision to learn it. Only you know what you want, and only you can set the right milestones for your learning journey. Check out these tried-and-tested approaches for inspiration on how to set learning goals for yourself.

  • Sometimes college lectures leave you hanging. Binge-watching Khan Academy might solve your problem short term, but if you want to learn a subject for real try creating a learning plan.
  • Are you self-teaching to level up your career? More power to you! Try this goal-setting exercise to figure out your next step.
  • Have you ever wondered how awesome teachers develop student learning outcomes? Bloom’s Taxonomy Model is a popular method for creating measurable outcome statements. Take a look at Georgia Tech’s article for tips on writing your own and some free learning outcome generators!

Find a Community

You may have heard the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”. Learning on your own is often most effective when you a community rallying for you. A support system does wonders for your motivation and keeps you accountable for your learning. It’s also near impossible to learn something new without the expertise of those who’ve done it before. Start finding friendly learning folks by asking professors, other students, alumni, and student club members. If you’d rather Google, try searching “[insert skill or subject you want to learn here] community” to find a ready-made community. Also be sure to check out this grand list of Slack communities, Meetup, and your local resources!

Gather Quality Resources

You know what you want to learn, and you have a supportive community. All you need now are some pristine resources. Take a look at these tips on how to pick the best resources for your learning goal.

  • If you’re a newbie to the subject or skill, start with Google. Reading blogs on Medium, threads on Reddit, and subscribing to reputable e-newsletters are awesome ways to dip your toes into a new topic. And you can start diving into complex bits with Google Scholar. A cherry on top of the cake — you build your Googling skills along the way!
  • Your resource bank can be whatever you want it to be. Find out what types of resources works best for you and your situation. Some learning mediums you can try are podcasts, books, videos, newsletters, articles, online meetings, and text message.
  • Do you learn better in a structured learning environment? You don’t need to go to school or cough up cash to learn in a traditional classroom setup. Udemy, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, SkillShare, and MIT OpenCourseWare are virtual gold mines for structured learners. YouTube also has a wealth of channels that are designed to help you go from zero to expert. Googling and asking your community can point you towards programs specific to your topic!
  • Don’t assume everything you read is true! The Internet is full of conflicting opinions and outdated articles. Learn how to spot credible resources and use the conflicting perspectives you read to form your own approach.

Commit to Learning

When you quit something that you had initially wanted to do, it’s because the reasons to stop eventually came to outweigh the reasons to continue.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Learning something new is a long game. In addition to the new skill or topic you’re learning, you’ll also have to build time management skills, create a study space, and stick to the goals you’ve set for yourself. More often than not, the culprit behind a learning slump isn’t laziness or poor time management skills — it’s lack of motivation. Learning how to get and stay motivated before starting your learning journey is just as important as time management and other learning habits. In fact, without motivation, most of the other skills are rendered useless. Turning back to your community and master plan are great ways of reminding yourself why you’re working towards your goals. And sometimes, a well-deserved break is what is you need. Replenish and start fresh.

Learn How You Learn Best

Image: ghost cat. Text: Things are going to work out for you. Maybe not in the way you expected, but that’s okay.
  • Find an accountability buddy! It’s normal to lose steam when learning something new. The important part is getting back on track. Having someone who checks in on you and your goals is a great way to keep yourself learning. Listen to Setting Yourself Up for Success to hear how learning friends keep you accountable and watch out for your well-being.
  • Pace yourself. You own your learning journey. If you need more time with a particularly tricky topic or a week-long break away from your computer, adjust your plan accordingly. Listen to our Sustainable Self-Growth episode to learn how you can keep learning without burning out.
  • Keep an eye out for passions. It’s never too late to find something you love, and you might just stumble upon new passions while self-teaching. Listen to how Grace Ling and Joseph Choi redirected their careers after finding passions outside of their college major.
  • Get yourself a mentor. There’s nothing more valuable than having an expert by your side to encourage you and keep you growing. Learn how to find awesome mentors and hop onto Opal to get matched with one!

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