Setting up a year of independent study has been an interesting process. I’ve learned what a MOOC is (massive open online course) and about great free learning places like Coursera. I’ve created my own yearly, monthly, weekly and daily schedules. I’ve learned how to bounce back from distractions and off days. And I’ve learned more about myself and how my brain works so I can get the most out of my study time. I can’t say it’s been all wins – I’ve definitely had some rough patches – but overall I think it’s going well!
Resources I’ve Found Helpful
Coursera is fabulous. I’ve finished two courses there so far (Learning How to Learn and Think Again I) and am on my third and fourth now (Think Again II and English Composition). Though I’d definitely recommend all the ones I mentioned, not everything I’ve tried has been life-changing. I’ve started a couple of courses and quickly realised they weren’t what I expected or wanted. But I just un-enrolled and that was that. There are a lot of other online learning platforms out there and a few places with lists of MOOCs you can sort through if you’re looking for something specific you can’t find on Coursera.
My homeschooling friends have been a good source of info too. They gave me great tips for making schedules (so important!) and led me to some fabulous people, like Susan Wise Bauer who wrote The Well Educated Mind (recommended below!). Teachers have been the best at helping me remember that education is an ongoing project and, more importantly, a fun experiment. Everything you do toward it is progress. It’s all about sitting down and committing your curiosity to the pursuit.
What I learned about scheduling
Schedules are wonderful. I made a point of having a full semester schedule on paper (ok, in excel) before Day 1 of my study. I took all the topics I wanted to study and looked at all the books I wanted to read and broke them down over the 16 week session.
Every week I look to see where I’m at on the semester schedule and I base my weekly goals on what I need to finish to stay on track. Every day I look at the weekly schedule and see what I can do to chip away at it. Having that overarching guide means I don’t have to make decisions every single day about where I’m heading. It’s already set and I can just pick up where I left off.
Two points on making schedules:
- Be honest.. Ask yourself how much time you *really* have and how much you can *really* commit to the project every day/week/month. Look honestly at what you can *actually* achieve in that window. It’s much better to find yourself ahead of schedule with the ability to add more than it is to find you’re overwhelmed (aka stalled) by what you still feel you *have to* finish (more on that momentarily).
- Schedules are flexible. The point of making one isn’t to force yourself to stick to it religiously every day of the year. If you give yourself that goal you will fail; have even one off day and you’ll lose that perfect streak. A long-term schedule gives you direction. It helps you break down the project to make every day choices about it easier. If you get behind in one area you are likely getting ahead in another. Allow for flexibility while still keeping the big picture in mind.
Reminders for my future self (who will certainly struggle with these along the way)
- You don’t *HAVE TO* finish anything. Independent study is about having fun and enjoying yourself. Whatever strikes you as fascinating, curious or fun is what you want to be studying. So study that.
- Be discerning. Lots of things are interesting in the world, but you’ll never have time to explore them all. Get over it and decide which are most interesting to you right now. Then study that.
- Be disciplined. Stick to your schedule and don’t make excuses. If you really don’t want to do it, cut it out, but be honest with yourself. Are you avoiding it because you don’t enjoy it or because it is challenging? Accept the challenge.
- Stay organised. Keep track of where you are and where you’re going. Document your achievements!
- Do *ONE* thing at a time. When you catch yourself doing three different things at once, step back and remember what it is you are actually working on. Do that thing.
Books I’m reading now
- The Well Educated Mind – a wonderful book that delves into classical literature and provides a framework for critical analysis
- Understanding Arguments – a very readable and engaging textbook that covers all the topics from the Think Again series more thoroughly. The answer key is also available which means you can dive right in and learn by doing!
- Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
- Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit
Things I want to do in February
- Finish setting up my Bliss Station (with a nice, handwritten version of my Happiness List)
- Take more time to do the things I enjoy when I’m not studying (pole dance, pub quiz, wadi walks, yoga…)
- Keep going! Stick with my schedule, keep doing what I’m doing and have fun doing it!