Self-Driven Learning: Secrets for Success

Technology is constantly advancing, and, especially in GIS, change is constant. Therefore, it is vital to stay up-to-date and keep the field moving forward.

As professionals, it is our responsibility to keep our pool of knowledge expanding. Below, I share some techniques and resources for self-driven learning that have been helpful.

Self-driven learning
Self-Driven Learning: Secrets for Success

Self – Driven Learning

Self-driven learning is when you pick what you want to know, how you want to learn, and when you want to learn it. Motivation often stems from curiosity or necessity. This kind of learning occurs quite naturally; in fact, it’s how we begin learning as children. It’s more adaptive than learning in traditional classroom environments. You can explore different methodologies to see what works for you and go more or less in-depth with your study as required. Additionally, self-driven learning leads to the development of other skills like time management, self-discipline, accountability, the ability to better assess yourself.

Techniques for Self – Driven Learning

Using a methodology for guiding your self-learning can help make it easier to measure your progress and hold yourself accountable. While there are a number of different approaches, we’ll look at two methodologies I’ve found effective. Objective Based Learning isn’t the first methodology I tried, but it’s the first that led to consistent, sustained progress. More recently, I’ve been implementing the F.A.S.T. learning methodology and have found it to be extremely effective.

Objective Based Learning

Objective Based Learning is the system usually implemented by schools that have self-driven learning programs. This framework uses assessments, objectives, and an evaluation process to give learners metrics with which to gauge their progress. The assessment phase sets the groundwork for learning any topic. Learners examine what they want to learn and why, evaluate their current situation and habits, then reflect on their previous experiences with self learning. This helps to measure likelihood of success and check whether some changes need to be made before learning can be achieved.

Once the learner is in a good environment to start the learning process, they plan out what and how they’re going to be learning. They outline learning objectives and measurable goals. Then, they can determine the method for assessing progress. The learner will examine different tools and pick what resources they will want to use. Additionally, selecting a regular time and place for studying can help ensure progress stays on track.

After the what, when, and how is planned out, the bulk of the remaining work is simply follow through. The rest comes from the learner regularly evaluating their progress. The evaluation phase allows learners to track their progress and determine if they need to re-evaluate the plan they follow for their study.

F.A.S.T. Learning

F.A.S.T. learning was developed by memory expert Jim Kwik. This methodology maximizes the gain from self-learning by examining the mindset and attitude of the learner.

F – Forget

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but ‘forgetting’ is an important part of learning in this methodology. First, learners ‘forget’ what they think they already know about a subject. In doing this, it opens the mind instead of creating blocks because the learner thinks they already know something that may be inaccurate or out-of-date. Next, learners forget anything that’s not important. It’s easy to get caught up in other tasks like doing the dishes instead of sticking to a routine for learning. However, sticking to the designated time set aside for studying is important, and those dishes will still be there in an hour. Finally, it is important for learners to forget their limitations. An important part of learning is trying new things and making mistakes. When a learner is telling themselves they can’t do something, it may disrupt their ability to understand the material they’re working with.

A – Activate

There is a difference between understanding something intellectually and understanding it in application. When learning something, it’s important to put the material or skill being studied into practice. This reinforces key concepts and identifies areas where understanding might not be as strong as it needs to be. In this methodology, learners apply what they’re learning to small projects as they go along. This allows them to take ownership of their learning and ensure a greater degree of understanding.

S – State

In the context of the F.A.S.T. methodology, state is the mental, physical, and emotional place a learner finds themselves in as they engage in the learning process. State is important because you require both information and emotion to form long-term memories. For example, think about a particular dish that, when you smell it, that evokes memories from your childhood. That smell was the information, and your brain associated the emotions you experienced as you smelled that dish being prepared to form the long-term memory. On the other side of the spectrum, consider a subject you found particularly boring in school. How much of that subject can you recall now as compared to a subject that was more stimulating?

It is important for learners to take control of their state. Make sure the designated study area is a positive environment and take a moment at the start of each study session to remind yourself why you want to learn the material you’ve selected. All learning is state dependent, so taking the time to put yourself in the right state is an important part of the process.

T – Teach

One of the things that can help solidify an understanding of a topic is when learners study it as if they’ll be teaching it to someone else. By acting as if this were the case, learners end up taking better notes and check their understanding more often. Jim Kwik, the founder of the F.A.S.T. methodology says, “When you teach something, you get to learn it twice.”

Image of book open on top of a graph paper notebook, with a pen.

Self – Driven Learning Resources

With modern technology, there are a plethora of resources available to anyone who wants to learn about a topic. For example, websites exist that focus on giving an in-depth understanding of a particular subject, such as Free Code Camp‘s focus on full-stack web development. At the same time, there are websites, such as Udemy, that provide more diverse offerings that may go less in-depth. Between libraries and e-publishing, more books, journals, and other literature on a topic are readily available than ever before. Learners who prefer more traditional formats can view courses from colleges and universities through opencourseware. Some great options include MIT‘s program, or MOOCs, like the ones Esri regularly offers. Podcasts and educational videos are also available through a variety of sources. You can consume this content on the go, making it easier to learn wherever you are.

Additionally, other people remain a valuable resource when learning. With the rise in popularity of self-driven learning, communities are popping up around new subjects all the time. These communities allow learners to share resources and assist each other when someone gets stuck. Furthermore, if someone is part of a team and trying to learn something, reaching out to teammates with different experiences can be extremely helpful. For example, as an employee at GEO Jobe, we are constantly learning about new technology and advances in the field. If I’m working on something and get stumped, one of the first things I will do is ask one of the members of my team to explain it to me. With the wealth of experience and knowledge on the team, it’s often the most efficient way to learn something new. Other people might be the most important, and often undervalued, resource for anyone engaged in self-learning.

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Courtney Kirkham

Jr. Application Developer