Saturday, March 05, 2005

From the top

For some years I have been involved in a major self-directed learning project, which has been enjoyable but not particularly profitable. I'm interested in sharing what I have learned and thought along the way. I'm hoping for comments from other people who share this kind of interest.

Self-directed education is more like exploring the wilds than following a highway. It can be frustrating, slow, incomplete, and filled with hazards and painful errors. On the other hand, there are few things more satisfying than to reach an understanding of a subject, perhaps even to discover for oneself things that no one has ever known before.

One of the first things to recognize is that the world of human learning is huge. No one person can master all of its intricate detail. It's necessary to pick and choose what to study. If knowledge consists of iscolated, unconnected facts, like a trivia game, then the more facts one has, the greater is the confusion.

Furthermore, it's nearly impossible to study any one subject in complete isolation. Any one subject is connected to several others, and without any guiding or organizing principle, self-directed education has no more direction than wandering down a road to see where it goes. Sometimes, such undirected meandering may be useful, but it's not very efficient.

Since no two people are identical, and have different needs, preparation, and purposes, it is impossible for any one formalized program to suit everyone. There are various other advantages to a self directed program, which I may discuss as the topics arise.

One of my first suggestions for someone beginning a self-directed education is to start with a 3-ring binder and a package of paper. The reason for a binder, rather than something like a spiral notebook, is that it allows for rearrangement and replacement of pages. The process of learning is not linear, and doesn't proceed in a nice straight line from beginning to end. It may also be useful to have a set of divider pages, in order to group related subjects. Next entry, I will present an initial organization that I have developed.

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