If you’re not yet sure that you belong in a traditional college classroom, you may be interested in a growing movement in education: do-it-yourself learning. Students who pursue a DIY education may develop new skills and knowledge independently, often by creative and resourceful means.
Today, they may be called Edupunks, DIY-ers, or Makers, but the concept is nothing new; notable autodidacts, or self-directed learners, include Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, Emily Dickinson, and countless other innovators. The difference is that today’s students have far more tools and resources at their fingertips.
DIY Education – What is it?
As a DIY learner, you take control of your own education and decide what subjects and skills you want to study. The availability of relatively inexpensive online courses through sites like Udemy help make it easy for DIY-ers to explore new knowledge areas without the expense of a traditional college course.
Many respected universities, including Harvard and MIT, offer MOOCs for free as a way of promoting democratic education and bringing new learning opportunities to the public. [i] These noncredit courses can be found in subjects ranging from computer programming to ancient civilizations, and they are typically a risk-free way to try out a prospective major, develop new skills, or simply expand your general knowledge.
Another feature of the do-it-yourself learning community is hackerspaces: open workspaces where hackers and makers can come together to learn and collaborate, typically in fields like science and technology. Hackerspaces may offer knowledge sharing, social activities, and group projects, much like a more traditional learning environment. The difference is, hackers and makers decide what projects and initiatives are meaningful to them, determining their own curriculum. This is not unlike flipped classrooms, a new approach to education that allows students to guide themselves.
Who is it for?
The best part of DIY learning is that almost anyone can benefit from it. For some students, self-directed learning is an alternative to a formal education at a college or university. For others, it’s a way to give college-level courses a try and see if a particular major or discipline is for them. Still others may choose to take self-directed learning initiatives after college in order to develop new professional skills or simply to enrich their lives.
Pros of a DIY Education
- Pursue only what you want and need to know. You can choose to study just the subjects that directly apply to your personal interests and professional goals.
- You may be able to save money. If funding a traditional college education is not an option, DIY learning may offer a free or relatively low-cost way to enhance your knowledge.
- It’s a great way to test-drive college. Not sure if college is for you? MOOCs can give you a taste of what to expect.
- DIY learning lets you take a stand against the commercialization of learning. DIY movements like Edupunk encourage students to think independently and to rebel against the influence of government or corporate agendas on education.
Cons of a DIY Education
- DIY learning typically does not culminate in a degree, which is a necessary credential for many career paths.
- Self-directed learning is not applicable to every profession. While many computer programmers may be DIY-ers, you’re unlikely to find a self-taught neurosurgeon.
- A DIY education requires a great deal of independence and personal drive. You’ll need to be familiar enough with your chosen discipline to plan and carry out your own course of study, and you’ll need to hold yourself accountable for reaching the goals you have set.
- Self-directed learners don’t have ready access to professors, tutors, and counselors. While support for DIY-ers is available, you’ll have to work harder to find a group of knowledgeable peers and mentors to help you develop in your studies.
DIY learning can be a great alternative to traditional learning methods. However the reality is that in the majority of career paths, employers require some sort of formal college degree. In some cases, online degree programs can offer the best of both worlds, blending the tried-and-true curricula and resources of a college or university with the DIY flexibility of learning at whatever time and place you choose. Whatever your stance on DIY education, it’s impossible to deny that this movement has led to increased accessibility for students, innovation in course delivery, and a new world of possibilities for independent learners.