I left college a little over a year ago. Continuing to learn on my own has been an amazing and crazy experience, but at times also very frustrating. Because I work on highly technical projects that require knowledge of many different topics, I have to learn efficiently. Sites like Accredible as well as MOOCs offered by reputable colleges and covering almost every subject area have allowed myself to successfully pursue my interests outside of college.
Since we are all in the process of continually learning, we need to find new and better ways to SHOW what we are learning so investors, schools, employers, or anyone else can look at the work and realize just how much effort went into continued education.
I have compiled a short guide to using Accredible to help record your self-directed learning ED-venture, and I sincerely hope you find it as useful as I have.
1a. Create a Notebook
Alright, I’m not sure if I can properly explain how important this is. First off: get a notebook! It can be a moleskin, composition book, spiral or fancy binded one… I don’t care. Just make yourself a notebook. A DaVincian notebook.
Write down observations, questions, ideas, schematics, connections, everything that can be created on paper should be documented in the notebook.
From there you can distill what it is you found to be the most useful and can add that to a digital notebook that you can access from anywhere. Accredible can be really helpful with this because it can help you organize your notes with screenshots, videos, and it can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Even better, you can share it with others and you can turn your research into a collaborative learning process (also mentioned in point 2).
1b. Create Everything Else
This is the easy part of making your own diploma program. Write down what you are interested in, why you are interested in it, how you can go about working on the things you are interested in, and just start figuring out what you can physically do/make/create that is relevant to understanding what you are interested in learning or in utilizing the information you have gathered about what you are learning. Have a calendar, timeline, mind map (more on that later), and embrace the attitude of “always be creating”.
2. Play School
Know that sites like Accredible are a HUGE asset because you can keep tabs on what it is that you have been learning and you can document the things you have done in and out of the classroom.
Look at “structured” (read: university 4 year programs) degrees. Look at the types of things they are expecting you to know by the time you graduate. Figure out what you want to keep and what can be tossed. From here, you can create an individualized learning plan. If there is anything that interests you, look for a MOOC in that topic. If you want to see what connections there are between nanorobotics and polymer sciences, try doing a keyword search and you may find some introductory classes through MITx or other OpenCourse classes that you can take and document your work on. The possibilities are really nearly endless.
Keep in mind that you can meet up with other individuals to share progress, document work, spitball ideas, and create an overall learning community. Having different interests is OK. You can learn new things from them, and teaching others the information you are learning will make you retain it better.
You can make your own courses on Accredible too! I am doing this right now with nuclear engineering. You can upload problems, notes, lectures, books, PDFs, checklists, and anything else that you would use in a standard curriculum. This is by far my favorite aspect about the site and one I found to be immeasurably helpful.
3. Look for Connections
This is where you can get out the poster board and go wild. I made a mind map that covered my entire wall. It covered everything from hobbies, interests, education, and a to-learn list. These can be pretty free-form. Just make sure that it is useful for you, makes connections, and you can see a 10,000 foot view of where you are, where you are trying to go, and the common threads between here and there. As you continue finding connections on what you want to do and learn, you can make note of those.
4. Earn Your Salt (Intern)
Now that you have hopefully picked up a few ideas along the way, you might have an idea of what practical knowledge you would like to learn more about. Leverage skills you already have to get an unpaid (offer unpaid, usually you can work your way up to paid intern or employee easily) internship to learn more new skills. You will grow your network, skill set, horizons, resume, and just about everything else you can think of. There is almost no better way to exercise knowledge you have gained than by applying it in the real world. Internships are the best method for this because they DON’T expect you to know everything, but are more than willing to teach you. Ask businesses if they are looking for unpaid interns that want to learn new skills. You will be pleasantly surprised.
5. Learn By Immersion
This is vitally important if you are working in a STEM field. Start reading technical papers and periodicals that are WAY over your head. Really, it’s ok. Read on a wide range of topics that may or may not be related to what you are interested in. Start recognizing common ideas, terminology, and concepts. Think of it like learning Spanish by being sent in Mexico and left to your own devices. It will be a faster and better retained knowledge than if you were to sit there and regurgitate the same things over and over again and never getting out of your educational comfort zone. Stop doing that! If you aren’t worried you are missing a few things, you aren’t mentally pushing yourself hard enough.
Now continue to read around, take more MOOCs, record more things in your notebooks, then revisit the old textbooks and papers. You’ll see that your comprehension improves considerably the more you do this. Remember, ALWAYS take notes in your notebook.
6. Talk With People Smarter Than You
Finally, it amazes me that more people don’t go looking to be proved fools more often. Here is a bit of advice: if you want to take the route of being in control of your education, get over any ego you may have associated with being “right”. It will only slow your progress. Jump in with both feet and learn all that you can. Invite mentors and peers to coffee and pitch them crazy ideas you have in your notebook. Ask them questions. Record interesting things they say in your notebook. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
Alright, so this should give you a really quick overview of some of the most important components of being in charge of your own education. You can make a DIY diploma about whatever you are interested in. Document it on Accredible (make your own course feature). And always be adding to it. Share it with others, and create a community of involved learners. It’s not terribly difficult, and many times is far more rewarding than if you were to blankly stare at a lecture hall for 4 years in a traditional school.
So feel free to head over to Accredible and get started researching and documenting your progress on what you really care about! Happy learning!
Siouxsie Downs: Siouxsie Downs is the CEO of IQ Co-Op, and co-founder of Farnsworth Downs Technology. She is an Uncollege alumni, stopped out of CU Boulder’s Engineering Physics program and is continuing her education in Nuclear Engineering. She hosts a radio show, has worked on humanitarian engineering, and is currently designing nuclear reactors in the Rocky Mountains. She plays roller derby (Atom THORasher), rides motorcycles, and was named after a 1980s punk rock singer and is an all around geek.