Most people believe that you’ve to attend college or university to become good at something. But if you look at the most successful people in the world, a few are self-taught. Besides, not everyone can afford higher education.
I’ve had no formal training and have been self-taught for most of my professional life.
With this post, I hope to help those who cannot afford to pursue formal education to realistically assess the learning process of not having a formal education and to encourage those who can afford higher education to understand what the lesson might be in avoiding a formal education.
Being Self-Taught Has Its Advantages and Disadvantages
Being self-taught means that you’ve not attended any formal training, such as a college, to learn what you know.
Most people aren’t completely self-taught. Even if you never attended college, you probably learned math in elementary school, geometry in high school, and many basic concepts of music and art over the years.
However, if you’ve spent a lot of time with self-directed learning, without formal instruction or guidance from a good teacher, then you’ve autodidact tendencies.
5 Advantages of Teaching Yourself a New Skill
By definition, autodidacts are self-taught learners. They’re people who’re teaching themselves a new skill through critical thinking, reading, trial and error, experimentation, and life experience.
For this reason, autodidacts are usually smart people because they learn through independent learning. They can learn and teach many things, from art to computer programming. These traits stem from their passion to learn new things on their own without being forced by others.
1. It’s More Affordable
One reason people choose to teach themselves is that they can’t afford to attend a college or university, but they still want to learn something. Sometimes people choose to study self-taught because they may not live near a college and would have to travel far from home to study, or because they’ve to live in an apartment instead of living with their family for free – plus, tuition can be expensive.
Self-taught study is more affordable than a college education. You don’t have to pay for tuition, books, and teaching materials.
You can gain practical skills that employers value. However, it depends on what skill(s) you want to learn.
For example, if you want to study music, you can teach yourself to play an instrument if you have the talent and motivation. Many talented artists haven’t attended art school. There are many free online resource opportunities (eg: Google scholar). Nowadays, you can take an online guitar course and save paying a guitar teacher by the hour if you can’t afford it, or foreign language learning, even a programming language or a certain technical skill can sometimes be taught online by yourself.
For some professions, however, you need at least a college degree. For example, if you want to become a doctor or learn a complex field such as psychological science or computer science, forget the self-teaching method and attend higher education!
2. Fewer Restrictions
As an autodidact, you can decide how you want to learn.
Some people like to find a quiet place and focus on learning, others learn best when they’re with other people, listening to music or doing something where they use their hands. Because autodidacts can decide for themselves how they want to learn something, they’re likely to retain it better in memory and understand it better than someone who’s taught in a traditional way.
3. Learn Entrepreneurship
I think being self-taught also teaches you a lot about entrepreneurship because it requires a lot of discipline and motivation. When you’re self-taught, nobody forces you to learn anything, and you don’t have deadlines. If you don’t set deadlines for yourself and meet them, you won’t achieve anything.
You’ve to be resourceful, even if you don’t know how to do something, there’s no one to ask for help. You just have to figure it out somehow or find the answer yourself. If you can’t find an answer by searching the internet, you’ll either have to abandon your project or find a way to get an answer.
4. Learn About Your Strengths and Weaknesses
This is pretty much the best way to learn about your strengths and weaknesses. You can find them out all by yourself, so to speak. If you learn something on your own, you’ll inevitably fail. That’s just the nature of learning. There’s nothing wrong with that at all – that’s what learning is all about.
By failing, we learn our limitations, we find out what doesn’t work so we can find out what does work. Learning what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does.
Both are necessary to achieve your learning goal.
5. Self Study at Your Own Pace
If you work better at night than during the day, or if you prefer to learn in shorter segments rather than longer sessions, self-study gives you the flexibility you need. Unlike an online course, with a traditional course, you’re bound to the instructor’s schedule and teaching method. If that doesn’t work for you, it can be both frustrating and demotivating.
But you need to be self-motivated because no one will nag you if you don’t show up for class, and no one will yell at you if you don’t turn in your homework. You need to be able to motivate yourself to work hard and learn as much as you can.
5 Disadvantages of Being an Autodidact
1. Lack of Structure
It takes time and discipline to develop an effective learning plan. It’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed by information overload, which could slow your progress or even discourage you from continuing your efforts. If you’ve no prior experience learning new skills, you may find it more difficult to be self-taught than if you already have experience learning from books or attending classes.
If you’re self-taught, you’ll probably need to educate yourself and learn more.
You’ll have to ask questions and find the answers yourself, and you’ll have to spend a lot of time doing it. It’s not impossible, but it’s definitely harder than just following a lecture or textbook.
Learning from books is very convenient, but sometimes it can be difficult to understand certain concepts until you see them in practice. If you’re learning on your own, you’ll probably need to use some of the techniques after you’ve learned them to understand them better.
If you want quick results and don’t want to invest too much time in learning, self-study is probably not for you. Self-study requires a lot of time and dedication and can be difficult if you don’t have enough motivation or discipline.
2. Knowledge Gaps
Even with the Internet, there will be things that no one has written about yet.
Maybe you’re interested in something that no one else is doing, and that’s why no one has bothered to write about it yet. That means you’ll have to do your own research and hope you’re lucky enough to find someone who’s interested in the same thing you’re.
3. It Takes Longer to Learn Something on Your Own Than It Does if You Take a Course
Depending on the subject, it can take much longer.
The advantage is that you understand the material better because you digested it yourself and didn’t have to regurgitate it from a teacher who didn’t really understand it.
However, you’ve no one to turn to if you get stuck. You’ve no idea if what you’re doing is useful or even remotely efficient. I‘ve found that to be the case with me on a regular basis. It turns out that I’ve been learning some bad practices for a long time and am only now starting to learn how to do it right. You can learn bad practices just as easily as good ones, and it can be hard to tell the difference.
4. Lack of Teamwork
When you teach yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing things your own way. This can be a good thing because it allows you to go your own way and do what you want (which is a big reason why many people take this path).
However, it can also be bad if you’re stuck in your own little world and never learn to work with others. You may not get the experience of working with others as often as people who go to school do (although there are ways around this these days).
Learning in groups allows people to look at and solve problems from different angles, which helps every student involved understand things better and come up with new solutions they might never have thought of otherwise.
5. More Difficult to Gain Trust
In some professions, having a university or college degree means you’re trusted with a certain level of knowledge about the field. If you don’t have one, that doesn’t apply.
It’s not always about the knowledge, it’s about being able to demonstrate that you’ve learned the basics that are considered necessary in your field.
For example, if you’re a self-taught programmer, you may have one more technical skill than a person with the right college degree, but if the person with a degree has as much work experience as you, you may miss an opportunity unless you’ve entrepreneurial experience in computer programming, which they don’t. However, it depends on what the company wants to prioritize during the recruitment process.
What I Learned as a Self-Taught Learner
In my experience, the advantage of being self-taught is that you learn at your own pace and can explore new things as far as you want.
You don’t have to wait until a certain day/hour to ask a question or delve into something that interests you, and you gain real-world experience faster.
The disadvantages are also obvious. You’ve no good teacher to turn to when you get stuck.
Sometimes you’ve no idea if your chosen area of self-study is the best path for your learning goal or if your learning style is the right one. It turned out that I’d formed bad habits for a long time in the past, and it took me a long time to learn the lesson of reversing the learning process and turning the bad habits into good habits.
Bad Practices Are as Easy to Learn as Good Ones
It can be hard to tell the difference, especially when the main learning resource of the self-teaching method is the Internet, where it’s challenging to find the ultimate guide.
It’s also hard to force yourself to sit down and work on new things when you don’t have a deadline or an exam coming up, and sometimes self-taught learning has its own limitations and can take longer than a formal learning process in the long run, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
In my case, the self-directed learning experience has given me many opportunities, and I was fortunate to have great mentors who’d academic backgrounds.
It’s been an interesting journey so far, but sometimes I wish I had a university or college education, not because I need to know a specific subject matter that would help me today, but just for the experience of being a university student, and a university or college degree often gives you the chance to have a higher salary, at least at the beginning of your career!
However, there are also some entrepreneurs who did not have a college education and yet were very successful.