Are You an Autodidact?

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What it means to be an autodidact and how it relates to being a lifelong learner.

What was that? You’re not quite sure if you want to own that or not? Forgive me, that’s my Word for the Day, as my fellow Toastmasters would say. Let me explain. In Toastmasters, we have a Word Master. At the beginning of each club meeting the Word Master picks a word, defines it and gives a few examples of how to use it in context, then every member is supposed to fit it in his or her prepared and impromptu speeches given during the meeting. At the end of the meeting, the member who used the word correctly the greatest number of times received an award of some type. Actually, it’s a great way to learn new words and a great way to learn how to use them in context. Anyway, an autodidact is someone who is self-taught. It comes from the Greek autodidaktos and entered the English language in 1748.

Many of our most prolific inventors and scientist, men like Thomas Alvin Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Morse, Wilbur and Orville Wright, etc were autodidactists. Today most lifelong learners are autodidactists because they are self-directed learners who master many subjects without the benefits of a formal classroom and instructor. My wife, the schoolteacher, loves to tell people that I'm the exemplary autodidactist. I quit school to enlist in the United States Air Force at seventeen where I mastered the art of jet engine mechanic. My excuse was that the only classes that interest me were math, science and shop classes and I was already doing 12th grade work when I was in the 7thgrade. I later received my GED and took some junior college courses. In later years I enrolled in some online college courses but never sought a degree. Over the years I mastered many things as a self directed learner, believe-it-or-not; I actually taught myself electronics and had a successful radio and TV repair business when I was sixteen years old. My only reason for telling you all this personal stuff is to show you that anyone can become an autodactist if they have the desire to learn as a self-directed learner.

Back in those pre World Wide Web days when I undertook the task of educating myself, I was limited to books that I borrowed from the library or purchased from a local bookstore or from some book catalog. Today the self-directed learner has the knowledge of the whole world available at his or her fingertips. The great thing about the Internet is that so many great sources of information and even online courses are entirely free of charge to the lifelong learner. It’s my intentions to introduce you to just a few of those resources in this article.


About U is the part of the About.Com web site that offers hundreds of e-mail courses on everything from finding a job to computer programming. Some of the courses are conducted on a daily bases while others are on a weekly bases but they all offer learning at your own pace. There are no formal class schedules or set time to complete an assignment. In addition, experts in their respective fields teach all the classes at About U. Here’s the link


Wikipedia and Wikiversity are two more sources of free information on just about every subject imaginable but a word of warning is needed here. Anyone can sign up for a free membership to these sites and are then able to edit any page on those sites or add new content to the site without having to prove their expertise in the field. There are no fact checkers that verify the information before it goes live on these sites so always verify the information you glean from these sites with other known reputable sources. Every professor I had when taking online courses through the U. of Phoenix warns us to not use either of those sources as a sole source of information. Here are the links and http:// The Wikiversity also allows you to sign up for receiving the daily article directly in your email box.

3.) Free Dictionay.Com and The Visual Thesaurus

These are two great reference sites to use while writing as well as two great sites to help you build your vocabulary. Both of these sites offer many other useful tools like vocabulary words of the day sent directly to your email mailbox as well as interesting newsletters and articles on words and how they are used. The Visual Thesaurus also offers a premium service for a nominal $19.95 a year and it’s well worth it for anyone serious about writing and/or improving their vocabulary and word usage. Here are the links and . The Visual Thesaurus also offers word games, quizzes, etc.

4.) Free ebooks

  • Free college textbooks. This site is ran by two students, Joshua Gay and Derek Kaser who purpose in starting this site was to make expensive college textbooks on a multitude of subjects available free online or free as pdf downloads to other students and professors alike. Check it out. Here’s the link
  • Project gutenburg has over 28,000 free ebooks available in their online catalog. Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or ebooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented ebooks in 1971 and he continues to inspire the creation of ebooks and related technologies today. If you explore this site you are sure to find something that interests you
  • LibriVox is a site that makes many audio book available free of charge to the listener. Currently there are approximately 2 000 titles available in the public domain.

5.) Learn a foreign language.

If you want to learn a new language or brush up on a foreign language that you learned many years ago, the BBC Languages is a good site to go to. Check it out. Their courses are available as text only or as audio video courses. Another good site is FSI Language Courses.

6.) Art.

Would you like to learn more about art, then sign up for Your Daily Art newsletter.

The sources that I have introduced you to here are just the tip of the educational iceberg. There are millions of other pages available to you and you can use the links that I gave you here as a starting point in your search for others.


Jerry Walch
Posted on Jun 1, 2009
Paul Torri
Posted on May 31, 2009