Self-Guided Learning Tips & Tricks

Self-Guided Learning Tips & Tricks

Publish Date
Oct 3, 2019
Last Edit
Mar 23, 2022 12:50 AM
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We may have classrooms and teachers for a while longer, but much of the future of education is self-guided. With most of the world’s knowledge available for free on the internet, it will become clear (if it’s not already) that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a college degree is ludicrous for an individual and fraudulent on the part of the university.
But the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. To recall the famous meme, one does not simply learn partial differential equations. Self-guided learning is hard, and not something that you can undertake lightly no matter the subject.
Aside from credentialing individuals, universities do provide three things that help: access to mentors, access to peers, and accountability systems. These are all key to taking on any difficult subject whether it is learning to code, doing advanced math, learning a second language, or learning to read or write at a high level.
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Our focus today is on the accountability aspect. As anyone who went to college knows, friends and professors can ideally help you stay accountable, but that’s not sufficient for success. You need a system that keeps you accountable to them, but primarily to yourself. You need a way to keep yourself honest.
Over the past few years, I’ve become a big user and advocate for alternative education. I’ve done an online MBA through an innovative company, Quantic, offering a free MBA program for qualified applicants. I’ve taken multiple courses through Coursera and EdX, I use Duolingo and Memrise to learn Vietnamese and German. I've also taught Data Science part-time through Thinkful, which offers 9-month bootcamps in Software Engineering, Data Science, and Design at a fraction the cost of University programs.
All that to say, I’m familiar with the process of learning online, both as a student and as a teacher or mentor. And by far the hardest thing for most people is combating procrastination and making steady progress. It starts with a busy day, and a promise that “I’ll dive into it in a few days when things calm down.” Sooner or later, you are too far behind and you start skimming material. Your understanding of the topics suffer and you get demotivated because the subject is not making as much sense as it did.
Unless you are like a few of the superhumans out there (you know who you are), you can probably relate to this experience. This feeling was a large part of why I wanted to build WeAchieve in the first place: I had used steady weekly targets to go from a non-runner to a marathoner, and it stood to reason that you can and should be able to do the same thing with learning. And the good news is: you can!
Over the past few years, I’ve tried multiple approaches to keeping myself honest on self-guided learning, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way have been built into WeAchieve to make it, if I may, one of the best ways to keep yourself to steadily progressing through a course!
What this means for you will obviously vary based on the material, but I will share how I use it and a few tips from my experience.

Tip 1: Figure out something that is quantifiable, easy to track, and represents progress to be your core metric.

I use different things depending on the activity. For any course/module-based program, it can be as easy as using # of modules, or # of course weeks, and you can just quickly add a post when you finish one. For language learning, most apps do offer some measures (e.g. vocab count or # of crowns), but I’ve taken to just ensuring I do at least 10 minutes of practice each day as an easy Yes/No.

Tip 2: For any long-term learning, make sure the weekly target is “easy”.

Look, if you are aspiring to do big things, you’ll want to set big goals. You may say, “yeah, I’m going to study Spanish 30 minutes each day” or “I’m going to do 3 courses from Coursera at the same time.” But assuming you have other things going on, these goals are likely going to be unrealistic. Remember that small progress adds up big over time, and that you are better off finding a sustainable habit that isn’t overly burdensome.
Here’s my long-term progress during the Smartly MBA program. As you can see, I hit a couple waves of procrastination, but stayed relatively close to the recommended pace.
Here’s my long-term progress during the Smartly MBA program. As you can see, I hit a couple waves of procrastination, but stayed relatively close to the recommended pace.

Tip 3: Set Targets & Value the Streaks

Last, but certainly not least, you do need something to shoot for - a goal! After trying goals ranging from Daily to Monthly and Yearly, we've realized that weekly goals were the most commonly used and also the most effective at ensuring steady progress. Another benefit of consolidating around weekly goals is that it let’s us setup some meta-statistics that help you optimize across all your goals.
My learning activities within the WeAchieve web platform
My learning activities within the WeAchieve web platform
I’ve tried a few other approaches, and you too should experiment and see what approach resonates with you. While tracking your progress isn’t a panacea, it is a great supplement to raw willpower and a tool to help you when procrastination is starting to sneak in. Need help coming up with an approach? Feel free to reach out to us and we can help you design a setup that works well for you!