Before delving into self-study, it’s crucial to understand just what kind of learner you are. (Yes, very good; a human learner. Let’s keep the dad jokes at a minimum, shall we?)
When it comes to determining just how your brain learns best, Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence can be an incisive starting point. Three leaner types emerge from this hypothesis: analytical, creative, and practical. An analytical learner is one that does well with synthesizing complex information in a prescribed manner, such as economists. A creative learner adapts well to “out-of-the-box” and innovation-driven tasks such as graphic design or sales presentations. A practical learner deals well with concrete tasks informed by real world experience accrued over time in roles such as event planner.
The tricky part is not identifying which type you predominantly identify with. The tricky part is determining just how the less dominant types play into your overall learning schema, and how you can access these less obvious strengths in your course of self-education.
Myself, for example: I am primarily an analytical learner. Give me a study guide and a test, and I’ll do an acceptable job. I can teach myself to take a test by now, largely from years of schooling and routinizing this process. However, to truly tap into my full potential with self-directed study, it’s essential that I acknowledge my creative learning tendencies, less obvious though they may be.
For example, when learning responsive design grids for web design, I will only get so far if I follow the instructional video and do the required exercises. To truly grok the material, I need to tap into my visual mapping tendencies; without abstract and innovative idea mapping, I have a really hard time later on employing new permutations of the disparate ideas I’ve learned. I have to literally draw out further connections on a piece of paper – how this JQuery script could enhance or detract from this layout feature.
Design your primary and secondary learning schema with your field in mind. In a field like web design it is imperative that you debug your own mistakes. Without mapping out why things work and don’t in various combinations, my synapses feel withered when it comes to fixing my mistakes. My knowledge is just not broadly applicable enough to solve what needs to be solved. But if my field were, say, architecture, I might employ more of a practical leaner approach, as I have hands-on experience with pouring cement.
Now, this can widely vary for each task, learner, and delivery model. But do take the time to consider for yourself just as your teachers did long ago: note how you learn best – and 2nd best — and accommodate accordingly.