S2EP7: How to create a rigorous standard for self-learning

The Autodidactic Podcast
S2EP7: How to create a rigorous standard for self-learning
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Hello and welcome to the Autodidactic podcast, season 2 episode 7. This week I’m taking a little break from exploring autodidactics of the past to focus on a different topic, how to create a rigorous standard for self-learning.

My friend and I had an argument. He said only people who learned at university had a rigorous education. I countered with the fact I knew more about computing and programming as a self-taught programmer than my daughter with a degree in computer science. But he did made some very valid points about the lack rigour most self-taught people have.

What is rigour in learning? A combined definition includes the following, most relevant, terms: Accurate, Exact, Exhaustive, Meticulous, Precise. The definition my friend was referring to mostly was exhaustive. He felt that people who are self-taught aren’t forced to learn the difficult things, and they tend to gloss over things without confirming they understand. Also he felt that people who self-study “wander all over the place” without actually having a meticulous or exact goal to achieve.

Some mistakenly assume that rigour in education means making things more difficult. Others believe it means piling on the work. Rigour is not quantified by how much gets crammed in, it is measured in depth of understanding.

Most people don’t have rigour in their self-education simply because there isn’t anyone “looking over their shoulder”. But if you want to learn a subject then you need to add rigour to your methods so that you’re learning and working to your full potential. But how do you do that?

Well, it’s different for everyone. If you can’t consistently negotiate rigorous tasks, either your understanding or thinking habits should be more closely examined. In this podcast I want to explore so ways you can add rigour to your learning.

In season one, I stressed quite often that you should be testing yourself daily with quizzes you build up from the previous sessions study. Each day when studying you need to generate a small quiz for the next session, and then group these quizzes periodically into an examination. There are a number of other things you can do to add rigour.

Use someone else’s curriculum

The first and most easy way to add rigour is if what you are studying a subject which is also taught at a university you can use their curriculum, many universities publish their curriculum. In university the rule-of-thumb is you are supposed to devote twice as many hours outside of class as in class. To add this type of rigour to your own studies you should have a self-study rule-of-thumb that 2/3 of study time should be problem solving or exercises, aka “homework”.

Transfer your understanding.

This means to teach someone else what you’ve learned. This requires you to apply knowledge in new and unfamiliar situations, an inherently rigorous process. But what if you don’t have anyone to teach? Then teach yourself. Put together a slide presentation showing what you’ve learned as if you’re going to be giving a course on it. You might even consider creating a YouTube video teaching what you have learned. This would be on public display and would encourage you to ensure what you’re showing is correct and you really understand it.

Mix multiple sources of information into a single source.

You typically have multiple sources of information available to you. Many textbooks, YouTube lectures, podcasts, etc. Take these multiple sources of inputs and perspectives and synthesize them together. This is similar to the exercise above, but here the output would be an essay showing the information and citing it. When you have to analyse, internalize, and reconcile multiple perspectives to into a new position, perspective or format, rigour is a requirement.

Create your study periods with Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical classification of the different levels of thinking, and should be applied when creating course objectives. Course objectives are brief statements that describe what students will be expected to learn by the end of the course. The full power of learning objectives is realized when the learning objectives are explicitly stated.

The framework elaborated by Bloom consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. Modern cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists and instructional researchers, and testing and assessment specialists revised this into more action orientated wording.

Remember: Recall basic facts and concepts

Understand: Explain, describe, classify concepts

Apply: use the information in new situations

Analyse: draw connections between ideas, differentiate, contrast

Evaluate: Justify, argue and defend a stance or decision biased on the information

Create: Produce an original work

Think about exercises you can do which will force you to use the information and skills you are learning to complete Blooms Taxonomy.

Find divergent perspectives and media

Find and use authors, philosophers, experts, or other thinkers who make authentic cases of their own that offer contrasting perspectives. Try to reconcile these various points of view. Don’t just stick to one type of input, use video, audio, textbooks, tweets, or interviews to gain different perspectives.

Require design thinking and project-based learning

Build design thinking into your study, be sure that elements of design thinking, creativity, and the “tinker culture” are used to help you to find success. For example, if you’re learning programming, think of a large project you can do along with all the exercises you’re doing in the text books. Give yourself exercises in such things as identifying patterns, cause-effect analysis, and problem-solution thinking.

A simple way to incentivize yourself is to work on a project on the side while you are going through the tutorials/courses. Building something cool and interesting is a great way to trick yourself into learning.

Complete an essay periodically

Essay questions are extremely effective for measuring complex learning. Opportunities for guessing are removed, so you can truly measure what you understand. So schedule in numerous essays into the learning plans and activities for practice.

Always pick good resources with exercises and do them

As a self-learner, it’s critical to pick books with exercises and solutions. Pick resources with better exposition, motivation, and examples. You don’t have the luxury of a lecturer who can “fill in the blanks”, and these expositions can be critical. Do all the exercises in the book. Even if you think they are trivial and a waste of time. It forces you to apply what you have learned, and if it is easy for you, great. If it isn’t easy then it is giving you feedback about where you’re lacking.

Resources with worked problems make a text much more valuable and useful; even students in a class may spend a lot of time doing self-study. For self-study, without worked problems a book is only useful as a reference while working problems from elsewhere. Try to find a book with lots of examples, problems and projects for you to work through.

Challenge yourself

As you look to develop rigour in your study, make sure you’re providing relevant challenges you want to rise and meet. It is not just about “getting it done,” but about seeing how far you can go and how much you can improve.

Have a lesson plan

In EP11: Study Plan Creation for Self-learners, I covered a lot of information about how to create a study plan for yourself. It included 3 phases:

  1. Initial assessment of level
  2. Resource gathering
  3. Study scheduling.

In EP12: How to evaluate resources for study, I covered how to evaluate resources you can use.

But in hindsight I can see that one of the things lacking is a method for developing a lesson plan. I assumed you’d be able to take the lesson plan from the book or resource you’re using, but my friend convinced me otherwise. So lets quickly look at how to develop a lesson plan for your study periods.

The basic self-study lesson plan includes for basic phases.

  1. Challenging objectives for the lesson
  2. Instruction and presentation of information.
  3. Practice and production
  4. Verification of objectives

Writing out the objectives for each lesson can be formal, or it can just be a single sentence on a post-it-note, but you need to know the goal if you’re going to know if you’ve done it or not. Don’t just write a simple objective; “Explain merge sort algorithm.” instead do something like; “Explain merge sort algorithm in contrast to other algorithms such as bubble sort or insertion sort.”

Complete the instruction and presentation of data. This might be simply reading the textbook chapter, or watching the video. Relate this to your learning objective.

Practice and production is where you should be spending most of the time. Remember the self-study rule-of-thumb that 2/3 of your study time should be doing exercises and practising the skill. Make sure to think about and use Bloom’s Taxonomy when you’re thinking about exercises and practice.

Finally verification is taking a quiz or test. In many of the podcasts in season one I recommended creation of a quiz from the material you’re learning today. Here you need to create this simple quiz and take it before the next study session to make sure you understand the lesson. Otherwise you should repeat the relevant portions which you missed on the quiz. Exercises and practice also help to verify and confirm that you know and understand what you’ve studied.

Spending a little time creating a simple lesson plan before you start with a challenging objective will add rigour to your study times. The need to look forward in the book at the section headings, etc., in order to define your objectives will help you focus on the study material. I mentioned this in EP7: Textbook Study Methods, when I discussed various methods of reviewing textbook material. These methods were the P2R to reading and studying system, the SQ3R studying system and the S-RUN-R reading and studying system.

Please re-listen or reread those podcasts if you need more information. I put transcriptions of the podcasts on my website so they are available to read as well as listen.

Well that is all for this week.

If you enjoy the show, please give a rating on the platform you’re using to listen, and please share the podcast with friends and family who might be interested. Also, please feel free to email me at rick@autodidactic.info, or leave feedback on the website autodidactic.info.

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