How to Become an Autodidact

Three Parts:Making a StartUsing the Swarm StrategyKeeping an Essay Blog

An autodidact is someone who teaches themselves about a subject or subjects in which they do not have any formal education. Notable autodidacts include Leonardo da Vinci, Rabindranath Tagore and Ernest Hemingway. Continuous learning keeps one competence in the face of the changes in the world. Doing a formal course in a subject is one way to do it. But that could be expensive. With the proliferation of Internet, you can learn whatever you want at virtually no cost. All you would need to do is spare an hour or two a day. This article will get you started.

Part 1
Making a Start

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    Gather the essentials. Get a notebook, pen and a nice cup of coffee. Find a comfortable place to sit.
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    Set goals and a deadline. Ask yourself why you are learning that topic, how much you hope to learn and by when you want to finish. This is an important step as actually putting this information down on paper would make the plan more concrete and push you to keep at it without giving up.
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    Decide what to learn. You must decide on what to focus on. Knowledge is vast and it is not possible to learn everything. For instance, if you are planning to learn history, then it would be best to pick a time period or a particular country. This way you can concentrate on certain aspects and not be bogged down by the magnitude of information.
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    Identify the resources. There are many learning resources available like books, Internet, documentaries and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It is not realistic to learn using all these resources. So, pick one or a combination of the resources for yourself. For example: to learn about the history of India, you could choose 10 books and a MOOC. Or you could learn only with books. Or go through articles and essays available online.
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    Create a study timetable. Chart out how many hours a day you can set aside for learning and try and stick to the timetable. You could do weekly assessments and see if the timetable is effective and reevaluate if it isn't.
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    Start learning!

Part 2
Using the Swarm Strategy

This technique was developed by strategist Ryan Holiday. It is essentially studying a topic by learning about it from different perspectives.[1]

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    Make a list of books on the topic. You could find suggestions on websites like Goodreads.
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    Start with a book on the list. It doesn't matter which unless the website has provided a recommended order. When you are finished with that, move on to the next book on the list. This is how swarming works. You reading everything on a certain topic from different authors' perspectives.
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    Take notes as you read. Note taking allows you to process the information you gathered while reading. This way you can question yourself about how well you understood the topic and also remember pertinent information.
    • Maintain a glossary in your notebook for words and concepts related to the subject you are learning about.
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    Look out for documentaries on the topic. This allows you to see some of the information dramatized and would give you more clarity on what you read or might read in the future.
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    Create a new reading list. You could decide on what to read next either from the works cited in a book you finished or it could be some new concept you read about in the book or something that the whole book is based on.

Part 3
Keeping an Essay Blog

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    Brainstorm. Note down ideas about the subject. Organise your thoughts and slowly develop a topic.
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    Write the essay.
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    Create a blog and post your essays there. Invite your friends to read them and comment on it. You could start up a discussion there. The best way to learn something is to share your knowledge with others.


  • Use different coloured pens while taking down notes and highlight important concepts and words. This way the information would pop out when you go through the notebook later.
  • Maintain a binder instead of a notebook. This is more convenient if you want to add more information.
  • Annotate in the book as well and record where the annotation is in your notebook.
  • Maintain a page explaining any symbols or short forms you may have used.


  • Be kind to yourself. Teaching yourself something could be stressful so take regular breaks and sleep well.

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Categories: Learning Techniques and Student Skills | Education and Communications