You don’t need a teacher to learn, just a plan.
Develop a learning project and create a learning contract with yourself that includes, goals, resources, strategies, and assessment.
1. Describe your learning goals
Make a list of the things you want to, or need to, learn. If you’re not sure what your learning goals are (or should be), ask some experts.
You may have heard of an “informational interview,” often used in the context of a career transition. For a learning project, seek out experts who already know what you want to learn more about. Ask them: “After a month of effort to learn, what should I be able to do, out in the real world?”
For example, you want to learn more about using WordPress.com. You might ask, “After a month of effort, what should I be able to do, using WordPress?”
Experts might help you come up with such verb-driven learning outcomes as…
- Navigate the back end of a WordPress site
- Author a blog post
- Design the content and organization of your pages
- Add and delete widgets
- Attach a new URL to the site
2. Discover useful resources
Through conversations with your experts, Google searches, a trip to your local library, reading key blogs and Twitter feeds regularly, and other methods, keep a list of resources you can draw on to learn more.
To continue with the WordPress.com example, you might find:
- A range of books on the topic,
- Lynda.com and/or Youtube tutorials,
- Friends who’ll let you look over their shoulder
- Blogs about blogging
- Coursera and other free online courses (MOOCs) about writing web content
- WordPress user forums (where people write and answer questions about using WordPress).
You are limited only by your imagination and savvy!
3. Decide on learning strategies
What steps will you take to learn what you need to know? List the activities that you can realistically undertake, and that will help you learn. Your list will grow once you begin your learning project — because the more you know, the more you’ll see what your learning options are!
Using the WordPress.com example, you might:
- Play around on WordPress.com
- Watch and chat with a friend or an expert as they update their own blog
- Hire a coach
- Watch online tutorials about WordPress (via Lynda or Youtube, referenced above)
- Read books
- Listen to podcasts or audiobooks
- Go to a conference or training
- Keep a journal of questions, problems, and discoveries
- Read other WordPress-hosted blogs to discover what you like and dislike
- Read blogging experts’ tips.
4. Determine markers of your success
What does success look like? Before you embark on your learning project, think about how you will know you’ve succeeded. Some ideas for assessing and “grading” yourself:
- Write a test for yourself, asking open-ended questions that you want to learn the answers to (ask an expert if s/he would be willing to read your answers once your learning project is nearing completion
- Develop a checklist of skills you’d like to be able to execute (and check them off as you succeed)
- Complete a meaningful project incorporating your learning goals, and ask an expert or friend to assess it for you according to criteria you specify
Execute your project
Once you’ve developed your learning contract, put it into action — use the resources, follow the strategies, and assess your progress. It may help you to set up a schedule for yourself, or get into a rhythm — commit (to yourself!) to try one new strategy a week, or reflect (journal) three times a week on what you’re discovering.
Benefits of a self-directed learning project
Whereas a teacher-led learning efforts are usually time-limited (i.e., a college course lasts a term; a workshop may last an hour or two — time lengths that you have no control over!) — with your own learning project, your goals are focused, but you can keep learning till you’ve accomplished what you set out to.
And once you’re done — celebrate, and then start all over again!