The question of “do you need to go to college” has cropped up in the last two episodes of Professional Geek Podcast. While both Hank and Blaire were hesitant to throw the baby out with the bathwater, they also acknowledged how easy it would be for someone to develop their professional skills simply by using YouTube. We can talk about the pros and cons of a formal education in a future blog, but today I want to help you teach yourself the skills that will help advance your chosen career.
Self guided education isn’t anything new. History is littered with hobbyists who made tremendous advances in their field. The man who “The Man Who Knew Infinity” is based on, famous mathematician Ramanujan, had no formal training, for example. In 2017 we have an advantage, though. Technology has made it way easier to find information, and packed that info into easy to use interfaces. Apps, forums, and YouTube videos take what we know about how people learn and made learning more fun and more intuitive than ever. How do you get started though? Well, here are 6 tips to teach yourself anything online.
Find a Keyword
Lots of fields and industries use their own jargon. These specific phrases and made up words can make the barrier to entry to be even higher than it otherwise would be. Recently, I did some research on animation and I found people using the specific phrase “walk sequence,” which refers to the series of frames that it takes to make a character walk across a screen. As soon as I had that keyword, I found thousands of YouTube videos on “how to animate a walk sequence.” Knowing a term to search for cut through ambiguity. Finding out how people in your chosen field speak will help tremendously.
It’s not just jargon that makes starting your self education difficult. You’re going to be staring at an ocean of new information when you begin, and it’s difficult to parse it. I’ve discussed in a different blog about the importance to narrowing your focus, and it applies again when teaching yourself new skills. Breaking down parts of your self education into very small, manageable chunks is going to really help it start to make sense.
Read the Comments
The common warning for creators “don’t read the comments” is reversed for self learners. The comments section of any educational material is an interactive space, so if you didn’t understand something that was discussed, there’s probably both someone in the comments who has asked the same question and several people who’ve answered it in different ways. Duolingo does this particularly well; every single question has a link to a forum post where the question is being discussed. I’m learning German, so if I am confused why “Das Hund” isn’t an acceptable answer (Since "Hund" is a masculine noun, meaning "Dog," the word for "The" is "der" and not "das"), there’s a place for the community to discuss common errors. The community is full of experts, and discussion cuts to the concepts. Comment sections and forum posts are invaluable for your education.
Consider the Source
Of course, there's going to be some false starts and misleading info out there as well. The internet has freed up so much information that would otherwise be locked in stuffy libraries or behind a paywall. But that freedom also opens you up to practical jokers, liars, and trolls. Check the source; make sure you’re learning legitimate information, especially if you’re getting your information from blogs or forum posts. There's also the possibility that the community will not entirely agree, and you'll have to wade through arguments and flamewars.
Stay Engaged and Be Genuinely Interested
School has teachers, and sports teams have coaches, and both help keep you on track. But when you’re teaching yourself something new, the hardest part isn’t finding the resources, but actually using them. Picking a topic of study that you find truly interesting is a good place to start; you’re more apt to keep your focus when you find your topic totally fascinating. Setting aside the proper time helps too. Don’t just try to squeeze your learning in here and there!
Try It Out!
Apply your learning! Use the knowledge you get on YouTube or on forums, especially if it’s a practical skill like photo editing, coding, language learning, or even learning to run a marathon. Of course, use your best judgement if there’s risk involved; if you’re doing a woodworking project, follow all safety instructions before using saws, or contact a doctor before starting a marathon training program. But the reason why you’re going online to learn a new skill is to use it, so go out there and use it! The worst case scenario is that you figure out what you still don’t know, and you’ll have something new to look up, learn, and apply!
If there’s something you want to learn RIGHT NOW, there’s never been a better time to look it up! Take advantage of this amazing resource we have and learn something new today. What skills are you learning? Come be a part of our well educated community, and discus it on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to subscribe to always get our latest episodes!