We live in a time of incredible information abundance. What was only taught in schools, exclusive lecture halls or written in prohibitively expensive books, is now freely available everywhere with internet access.
Even as recently as 15 years ago the script was, “do well on standardized test, get into a good college, get a good job or else you’ll become a garbage man and die alone.”
This isn’t true anymore.
In the first U of U post, we talked about how the current formal education system was constructed for a different era. In the outdated system, you are judged on a limited set of criteria and taught in limited ways.
But today you can choose a different path. And there are already people making their own way. You can to learn from their journey.
To start, watch the following TED talk about how a 13 year old boy used self-education (or education hacking, as he calls it) to learn how to create healthy and happy life for himself.
The above video is big reason why Asian Efficiency contributing writer Mike Schmitz is homeschooling his kids.
In fact, his six year old son is learning how to program from an online course called HelloRuby.
Non-Traditional Learning Paths
One self-education path you can take is direct mentoring. Mentoring is done by speaking with the top experts in the subjects you are interested in.
How is this done?
You can gain mentors by connecting with the worlds greatest minds online.
Start by seeking out the experts.
Once you have read their books, watched their courses or listen to their podcasts, try to connect by thanking them for their work and asking insightful questions through email, posting comments on their blog, Skype or social media (especially Twitter).
Not everyone will respond, but even the practice of asking the insightful question will be a learning experience. You can then seek out the answer form other experts or experimenting on your own.
In addition to connecting to influential people, you can turn Twitter into a river of brilliant insights by following top artists, scientist, writers and journalist.
The list of nearly free educational resources goes on. There are:
- 1,000s of free audio books
- 10,000s of how-to videos on YouTube
- TED talks
- Interactive code and language courses
You also have access to almost every book ever written through Amazon – where you can get used college textbooks for as little as a penny.
Take Control Over Your Own Education
Is this sinking in? You can learn anything you want. And you can use that knowledge to, as Seth Godin would say, “to solve interesting problems.”
Once you come to the unorthodox realization that education is not earning a degree or following a syllabus, you are ready to start making learning a habit – learning becomes something that is part of your daily routine and as vital to your success as sleep and exercise.
“The intense desire to learn plus the pursuit of mastery pave the road to a meaningful life.” – Robert Greene, “Mastery”
Where Should You Start Your Self-Education Journey?
Start with your interests.
If you are interested in productivity, great! Make sure you sign up for the free Asian Efficiency Insiders email list where you will receive more articles on time and energy management.
Entrepreneurship was the initial topic of my self-education. Yours could be cars, music, photography or whatever else gets you excited.
Start to explore the topics that interest you. As you learn more, your curiosity will grow.
Your original interest in productivity might lead you to fascination with psychology, neuroscience or anthropology. As you discover new ideas, you can build deeper connections by engaging with what you learn.
- Talk about it
- Write about it
- Put it to use
You’ll start to see connections between ideas that were previously unconnected. You’ll challenge your world view and start to see the bigger picture as you dig into the details.
“Education is about connecting the dots, enriching your mind and learning to think.” – Paul Jun, “Connecting The Dots”
Keeping Your Focus
The abundance of choice can lead to a sprawling education. This is okay. However, if you would like your educational journey to serve yourself or others, I would suggest looking for problems to solve with the information you have collected.
Write an eBook, start a blog or a podcast. It does not take a formal degree to become an expert anymore.
A year of intense study can make you more knowledgeable on a subject than 99% of the population. This is a valuable asset. People will pay for your expertise.
For example, Chris Bailey just completed A Year of Productivity, where he did nothing but self-experiment with various productivity methods.
He watched 70 hours of TED talks over 7 days, tried meditating for 5 hours a day and even gave a 90 hour work week a try. Chris exemplified learning by doing and having no fear of failure- as of his experiments did fail miserably.
Let’s end by looking at a – by no means complete – list of resources I have found valuable in my self-education journey…
- Yale Courses: Learn subjects that vary from philosophy from financial markets.
- Duolingo: Language education.
- Codecademy: Interactive coding classes.
- Coursera: Offers 643 courses, from 108 of the best universities in the world.
- EdX: Learn skills that will change your life from school such as Harvard, Berkeley and MIT.
- Khanacademy: A not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. Amazing for those who need to brush up on their math skills.
- 99u: For creatives that want to learn more about habits, psychology and business.
- TED: ‘Ideas worth spreading.’ with a focus on Technology, Education and Design.
- Medium: A new blog publishing platform created by the co-founder of Twitter. The site covers a multitude of topics you can choose from when you sign up. And, if I were going to start blogging today, Medium is where I would begin writing.
- Quora: A question and answer form that allows people to share their expertise. It is different from reddit or wikipedia because users have to use their real names when posting.
- Zen Habits: One of the most popular personal development blogs on the web. Author Leo Babauta shares his thoughts on meditation, mindfulness, happiness and more.
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich: Learn about personal finance, investing, and small business.
- Skillshare: Learn from industry leaders in design, business and technology for $10 a month.
- Lynda: Over 2,500 video tutorials to help you learn software, creative and business skills for $25 a month.
- The Productivity Show: Discover the best methods, resources, systems and techniques to be more productive.
- Mac Power Users: Learn everything Mac, computer and technology related.
- RadioLab: Blurs the boundaries between science, philosophy, and human experience.
- Hardcore History: Amazing, in-depth, bloody look at history.
- Planet Money: Unique stories about the world economy.
- This is Your Life: Shows you how to live your life with intentional leadership.
- Tropical MBA: Entertaining stories from location independent entrepreneurs.
- BiggerPockets: Guide to real estate investing.
- Smart Passive Income: How to build a successful online business.
With a few exceptions – KhanAcademy, Edx, Coursera – the above resources point exclusively to resources on topics I am personally interested in.
The glaring omission from the above self-education list is books. Books are often the best source for increasing the depth of knowledge (you can check our favorite books here).
You can think of your self-education as a T shape.
Blogs, short video clips and podcasts cover a wide variety of topics with less depth. While books and online courses dive deeper into specific topics (do not overlook your local library when pursuing knowledge from books).
For me, I cannot have one without the other. It is often a podcast or blog that will get me interested in a topic. I will then pursue a topic further.
At a certain point, sooner than you’d imagine, your knowledge on a subject matter is at a point where you can produce something of value.
For example, once I read 3 or 4 books on productivity. I was able to start writing helpful blog posts on the matter using the ideas from the books and how they applied to my life.
I would also give people in my life help. For example, I showed my dad how to process all of his emails more effectively and explain the importance of working from a zero-ed inbox. (Now every time we talk he tells me how many emails he currently has in his inbox. “I’m down to 20 today!” he’ll proudly announce.)
After working with 2 or 3 people and writing 6 or 7 articles, I felt like I was at the point where I could start charging for my advice with personal productivity coaching.
My self-education directly linked to starting my own productivity consulting business which then lead to working for Asian Efficiency.
Self-education changed my career path for the better. And it can do the same for you.
In the last part of the series I will show you the most effective way I have found to organize the information I’ve learned. It uses and old school idea of the Commonplace book with the new technology of Evernote.
Until then, I’d encourage you to take the following action steps.
- Find a topic you are interested in and start researching it.
- Find one blog.
- Find one podcast
- Look for ways to apply what you’ve learned.
- Discuss with one person
- Write one article on Medium
- Test one theory on yourself
- Bonus: Solve one interesting problem.
How Productive Are You?
Take our Productivity Quiz to find out. Learn the tactics and techniques that will work for you.