I have been trying to teach myself things all my life. Something I’ve often done, out of impatience or lack of humility, is to overlook prerequisites. I’ll be reading something, run across a term I don’t understand and think “well I’m smart, i can just skip looking that up.”
THAT’S WRONG. I don’t care how smart you are, or how cool you think you are. You can’t skip it. No one can.
I suspect that this is the main reason people don’t think they can teach themselves anything they choose, that they don’t know where to start, that they will run into many concepts they don’t understand. This shouldn’t surprise you: isn’t the point to run into things you don’t understand, and then learn them? Nonetheless, it is a problem; if you can’t understand most of the concepts or terms in some text, you won’t be able to learn much from it directly. Indirectly, however, you can use it as a source to find out what you need to know.
Here’s an example that most of you can probably relate to, even if silly and artificial: say you wanted to learn algebra (suppress those bad memories!) of the highschool variety, but you didn’t even know arithmetic yet. You’d look at whatever resource you were using, a textbook, a wikipedia article, what have you, and you’d see all these symbols you didn’t understand. The key is to look at these unknown symbols as a tool you can use to find out what you need to know instead of an obstacle preventing you from learning any algebra. So you’d see some plus signs, some fractions, letters, and numbers. Each one you find you don’t understand, you put on a list to look up later.
Most of these are things you won’t be able to look up directly. For example, google ignores symbols and punctuation. There aren’t many good resources, currently, for this process. you’ll mainly have to ask people. More about this in a later post. For now, the point is just to find resources, look through them, and collect a list of what you don’t know. When you go to look up each of these things, you’ll encounter more things you don’t understand. Repeat this until you’ve found everything you need to learn in order to get back to where you wanted to start. Then start learning them.
I call this the naive autodidact algorithm (or the stupidest way to teach yourself that will work). It will definitely work; that should be obvious to anyone. But it will also be painfully slow. I’ll write about how we can improve on this later.
One last thing: I have no illusions of already being a polished writer. I’m not. But part of the whole purpose of this approach and mindset I’m sharing is to not be afraid to fail, to accept criticism, and to improve based on it. I’ll be looking over my own work and trying to improve myself, but if you see ways I could improve, feel free to share. This is a learning process for me, too. I’m teaching myself how to teach you to teach yourself anything. =]
(I apologize for this being posted late: I had some personal drama and no internet until recently, but I swear it was all written on time!)