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Empowering minds: embracing the power of self-education

Although there are millions of excellent educational institutions worldwide, there is still an essential component of education most schools do not emphasize and teach students. That component is self-education. 

All students receive a formal education, which means students are taught by trained instructors using curriculums, assignments and standardized tests. But once a student is out in the real world, there are no tutors, teachers, peers or professors to help or teach them. They will have to educate themselves.

What is self-education?

Self-education means education through one’s efforts instead of being taught by a trained professional or instructor. This means an individual uses common sense, creativity, base knowledge, educational material, resources and experiences to become more intelligent and educated. In doing so, people educate themselves by learning through observation and experimentation.

In a piece published in the journal Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, titled “Students’ Self-Education: Learning to Learn Across the Lifespan,  Rimma Sagitova states: “The major task of modern education is to actively involve students in the self-education process and encourage their independence in the learning process. A successful learner in the modern society should be able to integrate knowledge from different sources, educate, and self-educate throughout their life to be competitive in an increasingly globalized labor market.”

The digital age at its peak with limitless learning platforms and educational resources, students should understand education is in their own hands. With all the knowledge at their fingertips, students must learn to educate themselves instead of solely relying on instructors who stick to curricula.

There are many ways for students to learn different subjects in other aspects of life. For example, if a student does not like science but reads a comic book based on science fiction, that student may learn a few things about science they wouldn’t be taught in class.

Formal education

In the research paper, “Formal and Non-Formal Education in the New Era“, the authors state: “Formal education is an organized education model, structured and administered by laws and norms, and subject to strict curriculum objectives, methodology, and content. This form of education involves the instructor, students, and the institution. Participants in formal education are expected to attend classes, subject themselves to assessment that is meant to take learning to the next stage, and it results in the attainment of diplomas and degrees. Unfortunately, this system blames students for failures, but it takes no account of students’ standards and subjectivities.”

Formal education institutions utilize a teaching model where students strictly learn from teachers. Nothing is wrong with that, but students will always need an instructor or expert in that field or subject to teach them. After a student finishes school and enters the workforce, they will always rely on a boss, supervisor or more experienced colleague to help them learn how to perform at their job.

Always having someone to explain to them thoroughly, consistently and willingly, most students never say “I can teach myself” or “I will learn on my own” because they are used to asking for help and not taught the importance of self-education. In addition, learning from strict curricula and courses could weaken a student’s learning skills due to the conciseness of what they are being taught. The student will think the only way to learn a specific subject is through an instructor who utilizes a course rubric.

Not only can this impede a student’s learning progression, but it can also cause them to be uninterested and unmotivated to take specific classes. Formal education has been the traditional method of learning and is the most effective overall, but knowledge is far more than a set of tasks — it is more so an experience.

The importance of teaching self-education

Educational institutions must instill in students learning is a lifelong journey. Even long after their academic career ends, former students will continue learning through life experiences. Sagitova states, “We live in a global world where knowledge and work are changing so rapidly that people have to learn continually. Self-education is one of the most important conditions of lifelong learning and has become a real need of each person.”

Not only will self-education help students learn on their own, but it will also help them adapt to the world and society as it continually evolves. In a constantly changing environment, new areas of study arise and the school does not or has not taught or implemented a “course” for it, so the student must take it upon themselves to learn it.

Students not mentally prepared to educate themselves will disregard or reject new information and knowledge simply because they are not forced to learn it, and no one is “willing” to teach them. If they are in the habit of teaching themselves, students will learn through experience, which is always the “hard way”, especially if they do not understand or know imperative information on the subject.

Teaching self-education

There is no set method or strategy to teach students or anyone how to educate themselves, but rather to instill in them the mantra “learning never stops,” and to be “students of life.” Through their life experiences, they will continually learn. The first way to encourage students to educate themselves is to help them understand education is more than just school. Education facilitates acquiring knowledge, skills, values, morals, beliefs and habits.

Educational methods include teaching, training, storytelling, discussion and directed research. In addition, educational institutions should also emphasize everything that contains knowledge, whether it be a book, performance, movie, television show, sport, song, technique, etc. With students conceptualizing expertise is in everything, educational institutions can then use students’ interests, passions and hobbies as a way for them to start self-educating. For example, if a student excels at basic math, the instructor may suggest the student read articles or watch creative videos about math to understand real world applications of the subject.

Also, the instructor ought to emphasize to the students if they start learning on their own, they will become smarter, faster and potentially obtain a job for their talent and skills. With math being a student’s best talent, their interest in the subject should go beyond the classroom. A student may learn the history of mathematics, statistics and finances, how math affects society, and maybe find a new passion and go even further into studying the subject because they are eager to educate themselves.

Not only does self-education better prepare students for what they are learning, but also in all other areas and subjects such as reading, writing, math, history and science. Self-education is not about the institution, it is about the student. Students must take the initiative to want to be educated. Although telling students to educate themselves is good, it does not work most of the time because students feel the only time they should be learning is in school. The institutional structure may make students loathe learning entirely.

Adding self-education courses to curriculum

Sagitova further argues: “We are keen to talk to students about the importance of becoming autonomous learners. But just telling students that autonomy is in some way a good thing will have little effect unless it is a part of wider course design — and unless we find ways of helping students to become more independent.”

To help students become self-educators, they need to build a foundation on how to do so. By having students point out their goals, interests and personal education paths, courses and electives can be set to teach kids the basics of self-education, strategies to educate themselves and how to use various mediums and approaches when teaching themselves to do something.

The paper, “Academic self-efficacy: from educational theory to instructional practice asserts, “People make causal contributions to their own psychosocial functioning through mechanisms of personal agency. Among the mechanisms of agency, none is more central or pervasive than beliefs of personal efficacy. Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act. Efficacy belief, therefore, is a major basis of action. People guide their lives by their beliefs of personal efficacy.


In “Formal and Non-Formal Education in the New Era”the author states: “Conclusively, we are living in an era that is unmatched for its rapid progress and change. The paradigm that education should remain as is, is above all a misconception. The much-needed reform in education should emphasize individuality in learning, the application of technology, and the development of digital competencies, to address its severe shortcomings. The application of these recommendations will enable the shift from formal education to non-formal and informal approaches which above all build on needs and ambitions of individual learners while transforming them into continuous learning members of the society.”

Through creating a self-education plan, students can slowly progress and effectively become better at self-educating about any subject imaginable, including personal skills. By educating themselves, students will become critical thinkers, more creative and better communicators, and have a better sense of themselves.

Featured image: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Edited by: James Sutton

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