The University of Autodidactica

Ben Franklin was an autodidact.

Ben Franklin was an autodidact.

An autodidact is someone who is self-taught. In today’s parlance we might call them a “self-directed learner.”

Autodidacts were common in Colonial America. Many of our founding fathers were autodidacts as well as polymaths. Ben Franklin might be one of our nation’s most famous autodidacts. Franklin abandoned formal education at age 10 and we all know how that turned out.

The number of famous Americans that didn’t follow a credentialist path to higher education is quite long and reads like a who’s who list of leading figures, so it is possible to learn without having to pay for the privilege of a syllabus, a classroom slot at a high-priced university, and going deep into debt to acquire a piece of paper that says, “I’m a passive learner.”

The point of today’s post isn’t to denigrate college degrees. Higher education certainly has advantages, especially in fields requiring specialization. However, in today’s world of escalating tuition, as well as the disappearance of previous supports that many current college graduates had available to them, maybe it’s time to consider the alternatives. Also, the formal structure and laddered approach to higher ed doesn’t always guarantee a direct path to career success, especially in the new economy of the 21st century.

I decided a few years ago that I wanted to maximize my remaining time on this earth. I began taking steps in a new direction that I’ve since defined as reinvention. Others might call it personal growth. I’m fine with the second term, but my preference is reinvention because of the richness of that concept. The latter definition also captures the personal autonomy of the self-directed learning process.

In my way of thinking and in the way I articulate my vision for moving forward, I consider growth to be about learning new things and then having the courage to apply that learning. This requires a willingness to put something out before it’s perfect, but still good enough. This is a process that I believe moves you forward towards getting better, and helps free you from the inertia of staying stuck. This is an excellent synopsis of the past 10 years on my own quest for personal growth and fulfillment.

Reaching the verdict that writing and independently publishing my first book was an excellent step towards self-directed learning leading to successful outcomes. First came the idea to research and write the book back in 2004. Then, recognizing that I was the best person to bring it to market, I created RiverVision Press to be the vehicle to accomplish that because I was determined not to sit around with a manuscript in a drawer waiting for magic to happen. Instead, I created my own magic. I figured out how to publish and market my first book, When Towns Had Teams.

I didn’t do everything right, but there were enough positives in that first attempt to consider it an example of a self-directed best practice. The book got out to its intended audience, and I won a national award. Eight years later, I’ve now released three titles at RiverVision Press. This past year I published a book for a national publisher. This spring I’ll be launching my first e-Book.

Because of that, I now am able to leverage my own experience and can serve as a consultant to others, teaching them the steps and process of how to publish their own books.

That’s just one example of how I figured out how to move my own projects forward by an autodidactic approach. I have many other examples including teaching myself to play guitar, mastering various software programs, as well as enhancing my ability as a speaker and a promoter, to name a few more.

My latest focus as a self-directed learner is what I call the University of Autodidactica. U of A is my own structured period each week where I focus on a topic and work at teaching myself some new skill.

Currently I’m using, a great website with a wealth of instructional videos. It is a subscription service that my son signed me up for as a Christmas gift. I’m enjoying using these instructional videos to enhance my toolkit.

There are many other ways to become your own personal teacher. One of the simplest and often most effective is your local library. I’ve had a card at the Maine State Library for years, since the small town where I live doesn’t have a library.

I read upwards of 30 books each year on a host of subjects ranging from sociology and history to economics, as well as others. This alone has broadened my base of knowledge. I immediately get to apply what I’m learning, as well as compare what I know to what others are paying college tuition credit for. I find many with formal educations lacking the ability to turn on a dime and quickly adapt to ever-changing demands, especially in our current 21st century world. Worse, these dinosaurs often throw up roadblocks at every turn. This might be why corporate cultures and similarly conservative work environments at nonprofits and state and federal agencies are unable to adopt the creative practices and build-it-on-the-fly methods that entrepreneurs know intuitively.

If you are interested in some new approaches to learning and a DIY approach to higher ed, I’d recommend reading Anya Kamenetz, who has been writing some really great stuff on this topic, including her excellent book on how to embrace a DIY approach to higher ed that I read two years ago, as well as her blog.

Invest in yourself and begin owning your own education.