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Rock your Resolution: Tips on self-directed learning

Welcome back! It's a new year, and that means you probably have some New Year's Resolutions on a sticky near your computer (I have about ten). If one of the goals on your list to learn Photoshop or how to code, then as a seasoned overachiever – I mean, self-driven, life-long learner – I've got some tips for you on how to rock your resolution.

1. Pick a resource

There are some great resources out there for online curriculum to learn technical skills like software or programming, like (which Stanford now provides for free to faculty, staff, and students!). These kinds of sites, which put learning resources on demand at our fingertips, are only as helpful as you make them. It is too easy to drown yourself in the multitude of online resources and get lost in the learning rabbit hole. What I recommend is choose one resource – a book, an online course, and resource like Lynda (which has tracks of curriculum), and stick to that resource to create more structure for yourself. Let that resource guide you in your learning, and give it a real chance before ditching.

2. Make it real

The key to making self-driven learning work for you is to have a real project or goal in mind that requires you to learn those new skills. Do enough research ahead of time to come up with an idea for a project that interests you that can provide focus for you in your learning. Watching videos or reading tutorials is absolutely ineffective if you do not directly apply it to a project. Don't waste your time. Instead, make your goal fun and something you are passionate about so that you will keep it top of mind.

That said, keep your project goal small enough so that it isn't scary. Don't dream up the next Facebook, come up with an idea like a one-page website Valentines card for your significant other. As you learn your new skill, you will have more ideas about how to expand your project goal and make it more interesting, so start off with a simple idea and let it grow.

3. Create accountability

There's nothing like creating accountability when it comes to reaching your self-driven learning goal. This is actually what real school does, but you can create this accountability for yourself! Here are some ideas:

  • Find a buddy: An accountability partner can be someone else committed to a goal they have. Set a regular day each week that you email each other an update on what you did that week, and what you plan to do the next week. It's a way to build your friendship and become partners in reaching your goals.
  • Blog your adventure: Create a learning adventure blog where you publish each week a post of something you made that week, and what you learned. Public accountability and a nice record of what you did to show your progress.
  • Put it in the Calendar: That's right. Pretend it's a real class, and put it on your calendar and PROTECT YOUR TIME! Make sure your colleagues and family/friends understand that this time belongs to your learning goals.
  • Report back: If your skill-building is related to work, even if you are doing it as a side project, create public accountability by telling your team what you are doing, and setting a lunch time with them aside to do a little presentation at the end to share what you learned. Everybody benefits.

4. Set intentions, not goals

Lastly, be kind to yourself. For self-driven learning, it is often better to set intentions rather than goals. You can't actually know what the end result is going to be, because learning is a process, and you'll discover that along the way. So instead of setting a goal like, "Learn Photoshop," or "Build Fakeblock," set an intention.

"I intend to spend 1 hour each week on learning Photoshop."

"I intend to spend three months learning CSS."

What's great about this is that every week you stay committed to your intention, you get positive reinforcement to continue, instead of at week two saying to yourself, "Man, I still don't know Photoshop! It's going to take forever. I'm not reaching my goal."


I hope these tips have helped you make your self-driven learning goal a little more achievable. What are some of your New Year's Resolutions, and what has worked for you in the past when setting self-directed learning goals?