As we continue to move further into the 21st Century, it seems we have been able to gain access to an unprecedented amount of information available at our fingertips. While finding in-depth information on complicated subjects—whether related to business, philosophy, science, or anything else—could once only be accessed via a library or a university, the clearest benefit of living in the information era is that information is now easier to access than ever before.

With the cost of college tuition rising throughout the United States and around the world, many individuals have been looking for alternative methods of accessing the information they need to succeed. After all, because the information is already out there—and can be enjoyed by an infinite number of people without diminishing in value—it seems that there is certainly not an information scarcity problem, rather, there is an information distribution problem.

Self-education, as the name rightfully implies, is the act of deliberately educating yourself. A term used to describe individuals who are self-educated is autodidacts and includes individuals such as Thomas Edison, Leonardo Di Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, seemingly countless Nobel Prize winners, and many others. However, you do not need to be a genius in order to properly educate yourself. Really, all that is required is a willingness to learn, access to the internet or a library, and a strong amount of self-discipline.

Save on tuition, fees, and other expenses

This article is by no means advocating against pursuing a college education which—depending on your field of study and personal situation—is still often one of the most effective ways of educating yourself. However, with the average tuition at a private university being $34,740 and the average tuition at a public four-year university being $9,970, there are clearly many (measurable) reasons that you may want to look somewhere else to learn.

Whether you are considering a self-education course as an alternative or as a supplement to a traditional college education, it is important to recognize what you are giving up. Generally, the reasons that many people prefer to go to college include the expertise of their professors, the discipline provided by the structure of their classes, and the prestige of having a college degree.

When creating your own self-education curriculum, you should do all that you can to replace the things you are giving up. For example, because you are missing out on the expertise of a college professor, you may want to consider reading more books written by experts or reaching out to someone in the field who is willing to help you for free. Instead of relying on the classes for discipline, you will need to create that discipline on your own. Lastly, as an alternative to earning a degree, you may want to apply for certain certificates or licenses that can help prove you have actually learned something.

Learn at your own pace

When you are learning in a classroom setting, the pace that you are learning is dictated by someone other than you. This can often result in situations in which you are either dragged down by the rest of your peers or you are falling behind because a certain topic was covered too quickly. Either way, both of these situations are less than ideal.

While you are educating yourself, you can enjoy the benefit of setting your own pace. If a certain concept comes to you quickly, then you will be able to immediately move on and keep advancing your education. If a different concept takes a little longer for you to grasp, then you will be able to focus on that concept for however long is necessary.

In addition to being able to set your own pace, you will also be able to set your own schedule. This can be incredibly beneficial for individuals who are working, have a family, or are enrolled in formal classes but are trying to learn additional things on the side. With the freedom to educate yourself, the times you spend learning will be entirely up to you—you just need to be sure to actually hold yourself accountable.

Learn in the style that is most effective for you

Though the truth describing our world is something that is objectively common to everyone, this truth is something that can be learned about in many different ways. With a well-designed self-education curriculum, you can learn in a way that is most effective for you.

Generally, there are three primary learning styles (though there is certainly a substantial amount of variation within each of these styles).

  • Visual learners are able to learn best by looking at things and making observations. If you are a visual learner, then you may want to learn using charts, graphs, maps, videos, pictures, and other things that can be visually observed.
  • Auditory learners are able to learn best by being spoken to or reading (which is a sort of auditory learning in your head). If you are an auditory learning, your self-education should focus on reading plenty of books, downloading lectures on the internet, attending public presentations, and consistently listen to relevant podcasts.
  • Kinesthetic learners are able to learn best by doing. If you are a kinesthetic learner, you may want to take the time to design specific projects for yourself, deliberately go on “field trips”, or take the time to work with someone who is already in the field you are studying.

Admittedly, these categories are rather broad. Most people will be a combination of the types of learners mentioned above and can likely learn in different ways. While most traditional courses primarily focus on auditory learning, self-education affords you the ability to make adjustments specific to you.

Learn exactly what you want to learn

The best thing about educating yourself is that it is up to you to determine the curriculum. You are the one who decides what you are going to learn and you are the one who decides what you will omit. The information is already out there—it is up to you to go find it.

Fortunately, there are many self-education courses and general guidelines that are already in existence. You do not need to be overwhelmed or feel the pressure of creating a curriculum from scratch. Taking the time to compare various courses (which can be found for free online), reading about self-education, and briefly making a plan you can stick with will really pay off over time.

The term self-education can sometimes be misleading because, really, we are constantly learning just by being alive. However, the term is generally applied to individuals who want to go out of their way to learn about a specific subject. Though you will not be able to master anything overnight, making the choice to self-educate can be incredibly beneficial. With the right amount of awareness, self-discipline, and constant thirst for knowledge, you will be immediately moving in the right direction.