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Autodidacts and Web 2.0: Are Universities Still Needed, Part 2

June 14, 2008

As I thought again about being an autodidact and what universities could do for learners, I realized that universities have been part of my Personal Learning Environment. (If you are an autodidact, you have to have your own PLE. For years mine only included books and other people. Now it includes bloggers, social bookmarking, the way I’ve organized my computer, other people in person, and books, probably in something like that order;->)

That wasn’t true for my undergraduate degree, or only partially so. I took the courses I had to and the ones I believed I could pass. But while I can recall nothing from my Astronomy for Humanities Students except the professor’s disdain for Astrology, I did learn which is which. Of some importance I guess;->

What I learned in the courses I thought I could pass was that some courses (in my stronger areas} that I took because they gave me a nice schedule, could open up into new insights, understandings and interests. I came to appreciate that courses could have hidden treasures for me, that some academics had an approach and a breadth of knowledge that I could learn from, that they weren’t just showing off their knowledge so they could win some obscure “I know more than you – ha, ha” game. I learned that, sometimes, struggling through ideas and information allowed me to construct a complex web of understanding that was deeply meaningful to me in my life. It was a thrilling discovery. That and a mate who habitually reads, questions and wants to know more, have made me a learning addict (and an autodidact).

I have spent my life trying to figure things out. Both my graduate degrees unlocked new understandings for me, and both were part of my PLE. I signed up for each because I had a question that the books and the people around me couldn’t answer. Both times, some of my courses were blind alleys to endure, and many were quests that left me with new treasures. And both times, I chose what I wanted to learn about and continued my learning outside my studies as well as inside.

So my attitude towards universities and learning is that of a frustrated idealist. I know I learned deeply and richly because universities have been part of my life, but why are the pockets of innovative and exciting learning/teaching about communications so few and/or so hard to find in this era of explosive change in communication tools and concepts?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2008 9:44 am

    This is so timely. I’m standing at a fork in the road with registration for the fall semester looming. Should I or shouldn’t I? My gut tells me to take the 12K loss for the past year and forget university. I do however share the need for the deep, rich communication that I have found in a couple of courses. I’ve walked across campus after class to my car on autopilot because I was so wrapped up in processing what I just experienced in class. But those moments are few and far between. For the most part, I found myself wondering why I was in a particular class. I was frustrated that I couldn’t participate more. God, this would be great with a back channel! People are itching to talk. But we sat listening. So what to do…what to do…tick tock, tick tock and cha ching.

  2. June 16, 2008 10:08 am

    Hi Janet,
    So nice to know I’m not the only one – and ambivalence is a rich, though uncomfortable, state. Good luck with your eventual decision.

  3. October 14, 2017 11:27 pm

    I am enjoying these posts about autodidacts. I have one in my family and I think autodidacts are the lifelong learners we all should be.

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