Self-Teaching 101

November 27, 2015 The TNS Group


With an increasing number of professions and new technologies requiring certifications, the need for self-studying has been on the rise.  Education is no longer confined to classrooms and professional training centers, and some would argue that the classroom model no longer meets the needs of some individuals and professionals who have time and travel constraints.

Being a “self-teacher” has become increasingly feasible due to Internet resources and more institutions offering courses online.  Learning a new skill or obtaining a certificate for career advancement or professional continuing education requirements can occur from almost anywhere, and at your own pace.  Lower costs mean these methods of education are gradually encroaching on traditional training methods.

Self-studying for professional certification exams and taking courses online can help a job applicant’s chances of landing a new position.  Recruiters and human resource officers like to see applicants that take the initiative and go above and beyond by exploring professional credentials on their own.  Online course completions can be added to résumé’s, and studying for subjects independently can be written about in cover letters.  Self-studying is an excellent way to highlight personal drive and intellectual curiosity.

One study suggests that self-study, in addition to being more affordable and convenient, may be surpassing classroom learning as far as effectiveness, and that self-study and traditional classroom learning actually complement one another.  Used together, they have been shown to help students learn and retain information better.

The Internet is an excellent resource for “self-teachers,” and with more sites being geared specifically towards learning anytime and anywhere, individuals have better access to cost-efficient and customizable learning.

Managing It…

While it is unlikely that the classroom forum will ever be entirely replaced, self-learning will likely become increasingly integrated into traditional educational institutions.  Self-learning does take a lot of discipline and can be difficult at first, but like any endeavor, with time it becomes easier.  Self-study, when done correctly, is a very effective learning tool, so it can be helpful when used to prepare for a test or learn an entirely new subject matter on your own.  Here are some tips for practicing successful self-studying:

Set realistic goals.  Setting work goals that realistically fit in with your life and other commitments is important when creating self-study habits.  You can set yourself up for success by assigning only a certain number of chapters or training modules to cover during each “session”, adjusting your workload according to how hectic your schedule is during any given week, and giving yourself a mental break periodically to let your mind rest.  Self-studying when stressed or under pressure is counter-productive in terms of learning and retaining information.

Find what works for you.  There are many different ways to learn and it is important to adjust studying techniques to find what works for your brain since individuals learn differently.  Some find reading aloud helpful, others prefer taking handwritten notes rather than typing them.  Discover the method that works best for you and stick with it.

Review material the same day you learn it.  After taking notes for an online course or reading the next chapter in a textbook, make sure you review all the new material by typing up your notes, practicing your new skill, or rereading a chapter again to help retain it.  While this may seem tedious, it only takes a short amount of time.  Reviewing can help with long-term absorption of material, so it may decrease the need of cramming in the future.

Study in short, frequent sessions.  Instead of treating your study sessions like mini marathons, break up your material by topic into a series of short sessions, separated by short breaks.  That way, you won’t be staring at your computer for too long and losing focus, and your brain can absorb the material more easily.  While cramming may seem like a great way to cover a lot of material in a short amount of time, studying in short, frequent sessions is a more effective way to learn subject matter and self-study.

Prepare and maintain your study environment.  When self-teaching, it is important to create a study space for yourself.  By setting aside a desk or table that is a designated environment for self-studying or completing an online course, you will know to be mentally prepared to learn when you go to that location.  If you are able to negotiate self-study time during your work day with your employer, it is critical that you remove yourself from the usual distractions that occur during your typical work day.  Sequestering yourself in a quiet office conference room or even going to a neutral location like a public library is key to maintaining ones focus.

Self-studying is a useful tool to enhance any learning experience, and when mastered, students of all types can benefit.  Whether applied to studying for a certification exam or exploring new material independently due to sheer curiosity, self-studying can lead to new opportunities.  Technology has put knowledge at your fingertips, so take advantage of all the easily accessible and low-cost tools at your disposal.

By:  Graham McClelland, Engineering, The TNS Group

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