It Is Better to Know How to Learn Than to Know: The Values of Autodidacticism | Teen Ink

It Is Better to Know How to Learn Than to Know: The Values of Autodidacticism

August 8, 2019
By Amehja PLATINUM, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Amehja PLATINUM, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
22 articles 4 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning." ~ Mark Twain

The Internet is a jewel. I’m not being a typical “generation Z-er” right now—just think about it: social media, immediate news, books, blogs, shopping. If you have a computer you could refrain from leaving your house for the rest of your life. You can order groceries, takeout, repair services—you can even work from home. However, the best aspect is the virtually (no pun intended) infinite opportunities the web provides us with. Specifically, educational opportunities. I know, here we go with the “become a life-long learner” spiel, but it’s not a very hard thing to do if you have the right mindset.

In fact, you could already be a life-long learner. When someone thinks of a life-long learner they probably imagine a bubbly super-genius who’s always overenthusiastic about learning new things. Firstly, we need to understand what it means to be an autodidact. Macmillan Dictionary defines lifelong learning as “a process of gaining knowledge and skills that continues throughout a person’s life.” Even if you dislike school, and need a more individualized education, you could be the perfect candidate for self-directed learning.

This is where the internet comes in, because the web—just like a library, community college or your high school—is a tool. With the exponential increase of open educational resources online, today’s age is the most conducive era for self-education. For the majority of us, we’ve always been handed structured curriculum and schedules, so once you find the resources suitable for you, what do you do? One of the most popular and recent methods autodidacts use is The Sandbox Method. This method includes four “cyclical steps”: building one’s sandbox (creating a space for learning), researching (finding material), practicing (tracking your progress), and getting feedback (from mentors, forums, peers, etc.). Although Nat Eliason describes self-directed learning as a “guess and check” process, you will have to study occasionally. It just depends on what you consider “studying.” Talking about the material with a partner, spacing out your study sessions, and studying in varied environments can help your brain retain the information. However, practical application can be the most productive for self-education.

Being a life-long learner is one of the most liberating abilities, and too many people are holding themselves back from exploring it when they have the opportunities. It’s true that self-directed learning is not for everyone. Patience, ambition, commitment, and most importantly discipline and focus are of invaluable virtue. But once you begin your journey, not only will your brain be ignited by educational eleutheromania, but you can also apply self-teaching to other areas of your life. Just remember, you can be more than just a university student, you can be a student of the universe.



Nat Eliason. “Self-Education: Teach Yourself Anything with the Sandbox Method.” Nat Eliason, 3 July 2018,

Parker-Pope, Tara. “Better Ways to Learn.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Oct. 2014, 5:39 pm,

The author's comments:

Originally written for the NYT 6th annual student editorial contest, but I went with something else.

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