The Art of Self-Education

Many people are intimidated by the mere thought of rolling their own education. It’s only normal; we’ve been taught since birth that the only way to actually learn something important is to sit in a classroom and have it spoon-fed to us so that we can earn a pretty piece of paper that says you might actually have a brain in your head.

The truth is that many very successful people taught themselves. Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and tons of others did it for starters. To be honest, I’ve learned more through self-education than I ever did through the formal educational system in place here in the United States.

So why do I want to go back to college if I feel this way? Good question. I want to go back to school for the experience and the ability to interact with fellow geeks as well as for the knowledge that can be gained.

However, I’m tired of the doublespeak for now so rather than continue the fight I’m going to make a strategic retreat until I have everything arranged financially and can try again next fall. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to postpone my education, however; I’m just going to teach myself.

Where to Start

When you decide to self-educate the first step is to determine exactly what it is you want to learn. I personally want to learn how to design, implement, maintain, upgrade (etc., etc.) websites, so after a bit of research this is what I feel that I should know for a good start toward my educational goal:

  • HTML
  • XHTML (since this is the new standard, it may be a bit more important then plain ole’ HTML)
  • CSS
  • PHP
  • Javascript
  • SQL
  • C++
  • Visual Basic
  • Website design fundamentals (layout, enhancing the user experience, etc.)
  • Website Security
  • WordPress
  • Joomla
  • E-commerce fundamentals (shopping carts, payments, etc.)

I’ve already got a working knowledge of part of this, which gives me an advantage. However, since I don’t know what I don’t know I’m going to start at the beginning and work my way forward.

Once you compile a list of what you need to learn to accomplish your educational goal, the next step is to determine where to start. Your best bet with this is to look over the various course programs available to determine the order they offer their classes in. For me, that means to start with plain vanilla HTML and then to work my way down the list of languages until I feel comfortable enough to work my way through a book on basic website design.

Choose Your Educational Materials

After you determine your starting point, the next step is to assess your learning materials. In my case, there are a huge number of technical manuals, tutorials and websites available for me to choose from. I just have to pick one and dive in.

Be Consistent

The main way that you can derail your goal of self-education is by not applying your butt to the chair, opening the books and doing the work. To avoid this fate, you need to be consistent in your study habits. I plan to actively study every morning before I work on other projects so that I don’t fall into this trap.

Apply What You Learn

The easiest way to ensure that you actually retain what you learn is to find ways to apply it to your everyday life. Doing this will help the information “stick” in your brain better. I intend to do this by writing my blog posts, journal entries and other items in HTML for extra practice.

Make it Fun

The next step is to figure out a way to make it fun. I plan to do the little things that kept me interested in school (and annoyed the daylights out of my teachers) like elaborate on the required projects and alter things to make them fun. I make my study time into a game as much as I can to avoid getting burned out and bored. I also try to keep the lesson times short unless I find an aspect that really interests me.

Here is a wonderful Ted Talk video about turning your life into a game that I found particularly inspiring.

What tips do you use when you want to self-educate yourself? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Thank you so much for your help during my current challenge. You are awesome!

4 thoughts on “The Art of Self-Education

  1. Wes Medlin


    If you’re wanting a free online education, there are a lot of good ways to do it. Check out these two lists on

    Also, as I work at a library, I recommend checking out the offerings from The Great Courses. Basically an entire college course collected onto a set of CDs or DVDs. I don’t see one for HTML, alas.


  2. Michele Messier

    Thank you, this information is helpful. I have always wanted to learn these things. This may give me the nudge I need.

  3. Lyle Robinson

    Hey Annie 🙂 Looks like you have things well in hand so to speak.

    Apart from the possibility of auditing courses where you wanted to learn, you may also be able to have full access to that school’s library, where you could study relatively undisturbed. Some schools charge a small fee for non-student membership, while others will allow the public general access into the library where you can read all the books you want or photocopy certain sections and what-not!

    Of course there is a world of learning on the Web which should give you all the materials that you need. When I first started designing websites back in 2000, I had no idea what I was doing…but I knew I wanted to do this, so I just re-engineered websites I liked. Meaning, I would study the page source of a website to see what codes they were using and so on.

    And to this day, I’m still designing websites for small businesses, musicians and comedians. It’s fun and creative and if I really need to bring out the heavy guns, I outsource what I can’t do.

    As you know, I also learned how to play guitar on my own back in the 70’s and am still performing and teach on that instrument 40 years later, so all this self-learning is definitely do-able…as you already know 🙂

    Take care and all the best.



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