Don’t Go Back to School by Kio Stark

A Handbook for Learning Anything. This book was funded by 1588 individuals, couples, and organizations using Kickstarter.

Students’ debt are reaching tremendous proportions. Having a good degree might not necessarily translate into a good job. This book is about learning outside of school. This book is for those who don’t thrive in school or can’t afford it. School provides the infrastructure for learning such as those the provision of teachers etc. However, there are those who self-learn and manage to build their own infrastructure. I dropped out of Yale and did self-learning. To me, learning opportunities were very limited in schools. In my third year, I learnt to analyse books on my own and to create a learning roadmap etc. You don’t need school to learn things and be smarter. I wanted to study how others learn in a non-school environment.

This book is about 23 people I interviewed who were passionate about learning outside of school. One can devise their own learning strategies. It is important to have a learning model and have other friends who are embarking on a similar model. Learning isn’t done alone. The most effective learning happens outside school. Learn and reflect to achieve the most out of it. Connections are super important. Online communities like stack overflow are examples of useful groups. There are mega online classes like Coursera etc. However, in many ways, these are similar to lecture based teachings. Tests are simply arbitrary motivators. The people are one of the most important concepts in a learning environment. Traditional credentials are less important nowadays. Use portfolio to demonstrate competence. Learn to start small and build from there. Be helpful towards others. Use connections to find jobs. Helpfulness is a two way street. There is an increase in professionalization of generalist fields. It may not be true that graduates will continue to earn more over a lifetime as compared to non-graduates. People need to learn to respect competence outside school. Work experience matters more nowadays. There are careers which don’t need licenses or higher education. Learn your own way. Find the methods that work best for you. Discover how you learn. Flexibility over your methods are important.

In school, individual learning cannot be catered to everyone because of resource constraints. Some people prefer the chaotic and exploratory process more. Linear learning works with textbooks and online courses like Coursera. Jumping in to the topic directly is another way of learning. This method may be better because you might link unrelated topics together. Do it for love and wonder. Have genuine curiosity. The structure of school can simply discourage learning. School learning is very external focused rather than internal focused. Internal motivation relies on autonomy, learning in the real world. Follow your own path and control your own learning conditions. Set your own goals on competence. It is very important to learn in the right context. Use the community to make you accountable for your goals. Intrinsic motivation leads to better engagement, retention and active learning. The author thinks that non-traditional learning will take center stage in the future.

I think part of why people teach themselves things – why I do – is really for fascination or love or something that drives them to need what they’re learning. I’ve never known what it’s like to be uncurious. – Karen Barbarossa

The beautiful thing about learning on your own is you have to be motivated about the subject to do it. Anyone can go through the motions at school, but self-learning may be the easiest way to find out what you’re good at. – Charles Kinnane, a film-maker

‘Fake it till you make it’. Learn to listen to your client and then find the resources to meet their demands. Forgive yourself when you fail. Share your knowledge with others to make the learning stick. Teaching is one of the best effective ways to learn. Join mailing lists. Sometimes it is useful to get jobs where you aren’t qualified yet. Learn to think critically and evaluate information. What you learn matters more than the grade you get. Learn basic research skills from books. Always share your own knowledge too. Good company is something you can always offer. When seeking a job, I didn’t talk about my education. Understand the broad system first. Map things out. Listening is the best way to learn. Interview people from different perspectives. The problem with formal education is that it is too rigid in nature. Learn by doing and not so much by formal training. Journalism is a good way to get writing experience. Learn from mentors and from skilful people. The skills you learn from one field often can be applied to another field. Empower people to do things. Editing skills are very useful in life. Learn to hit people up.

If you are genuinely interested in people, it’s not that hard to get them to teach you. You do have to do some homework first so that you’re asking interesting questions, not totally elementary ones. – Quinn Norton

The best way to get someone to tell you what they know is to share your own knowledge too. – Quinn Norton

I thought I had to start my career at the center of things, but that turned out not to be true at all. You build skills up and you use them as stepping stones to get to the next thing. – Rita J. King

When you’re learning something, it’s really important to not only to understand the system and context in which that thing functions, but also to look ahead and imagine what the world would be like with or without this thing. – Rita J. King

I’ve found that, by and large, people who are passionate about the things that they do are very happy to engage with other people that are passionate about what they do. – Dan Sinker

Have public conversations about what you like to hear. Create a life of ongoing independent learning. The desire of sharing also spurred me into reading more. Radio allows me to capture what I’ve read and am thinking about. Interview people. Find connections with what you already know. Learning structure will emerge over time. Do not focus on such a narrow objective. Learn to make your goals public in nature. Look for people to get you feedback. Make yourself accountable to others. Find ways to measure your progress. Observe and learn. Self-publishing was more sustainable than traditional publishing. I shared everything with everyone through my book.

We decided that in order to stick with our crazy plan we had to start telling people about it so they’d hold us to it. – Molly Danielsson

If you got into filmmaking because you really want to make your own films, because you want to make films you care deeply about, you also have to make a living. Then you’re hiring yourself out and you risk draining your enthusiasm for the art form by working on other people’s projects – things you don’t believe in. – Astra Taylor

If you can’t unite making your living with the things you love, which is obviously ideal, then sometimes it’s best to keep them totally separate. – Astra Taylor

If you learn to do something when there are real stakes, you remember what you’ve learned more. – Jim Munroe

When I need help myself, I would prefer to be pointed to information, not have someone walk me through it, because there’s that sense of discovery and learning on my own and not being handheld through the whole process. – Jim Munroe

For me, I just start by doing it and then learn things retroactively. I gain a deeper understanding of the mechanics of why things are done the way they are. You have these happy accidents where you do something the wrong way, but your work ends up having a different style or flavor by happenstance because you haven’t gone through the normal route of learning how to do it. There’s something qualitatively different about the work, in the end, which I really like. – Jim Munroe

Art school fails to teach you how to make money from art. The trick was to practice a lot. Keep on drawing and drawing. It is alright to copy some masterpieces. Learn from your co-workers. It is important to know people and earn their respect. Learn and make mistakes. Apprenticeship is a good way to learn acting. Be curious about everyone’s job. LA is one of the best places for film-making. School was boring due to uninspiring teachers. Projects end up taking much longer than expected. Iterate for a long and you may end up in an unexpected place. School failed to teach me the basic construction methods and too much emphasis was placed on art theory. Learn from books and trial and error and talking to others. We started a group to exchange knowledge with one another. We meet about once a week. Have fun in the process. Find a community to tap into.

Getting stuck for me has been one of the best teachers. It has taught me the huge difference between just knowing the answer, and knowing how to find the answer. – Christopher Bathgate

 I realized that mainly, I wanted to run a business. If I didn’t have the proper credentials, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. – Catherina Rindi

In asking for their knowledge, people are even more willing and even more generous if you have done something to show that you’re interested and you’ve made a commitment on your end as well. – Jeremy Cohen

I was always curious how things worked and I was not just going to accept it. Learn to interact with people better. Learn to experiment and invent new stuff. Take a project and an idea and barrel through it to see if it will work. Take things apart and then manipulate them. When I hire, I don’t care whether you have a degree or not. Learn from trying things out. I only want to hire people who are confident to learn. Find recent information about the subject. Look on Google Scholar and read through all the articles there. Another way is to buy textbooks. Be responsible for what you do.

I try to surround myself with incredibly smart people who are often, if not always, smarter than me. Because other people are so important to learning. – Harper Reed

I realized that what’s important is hiring people who are confident in their ability to go find information and to learn. I don’t care if they actually know things or not when I hire them. – David Mason

Try to learn as many things as possible and not be afraid to fail quickly and keep trying, or switch tracks. You’ll get experience and valuable lessons in a variety of fields, and you’ll occasionally stumble across things that you thought you were going to be bad at, and it turns out you’re pretty good at. – Luke Muehlhauser

I’m really naturally interested in learning things, but there’s one way to guarantee that I lose interest, and that’s to tell me to be interested in it, even if I am. – Zack Booth Simpson

There are two important things about reading a textbook. One is don’t sweat it; if you don’t understand something, so what, keep reading. Two is that no one retains everything, even someone who gets a PhD in the subject.- Zack Booth Simpson

I think part of why people teach themselves things is based on fascination or passion or some other internal force that drives them to it. – Karen Barbarossa

Try different things and see which sticks. It is easier to learn a new language if you are in an environment that uses it. Listen to anything and to all source. Ask your friends how to say it in a foreign language properly. Know the grammatical structure first. Every new language seems exciting to me. Learn to participate in a creative writing course or workshop. Write stories and send them to magazines. Learn to do your work and sell your work. Write even though you don’t feel like it. Develop the discipline to write a bit each day. Have 3 or 4 signposts in your narrative. Develop the tension by making the character try to help but end up making things worse. Change the tips in a self-help book and you will have a normal character. Receive feedback from those who are around the same level as you. In a writing group, if you don’t write, you don’t have right to critique. Do not critique the writer, just the work. The same goes for praise.

The more you can be objective about your work, the better. You learn to do that by learning to critique other people’s work first. – Cory Doctorow

If you write every day just a little bit, it just becomes a thing you do. It becomes much easier to do it even on days when you don’t feel like doing it, and especially on days when you’re not feeling it. – Cory Doctorow

You have to figure out how to stop critiquing yourself while you’re writing, and come back to critiquing when you’re done. You can’t revise and compose at the same time. – Cory Doctorow

How to be an independent learner? One can learn to gain mastery or learn skills so that you can complete a project. Explore those strategies that are most effective for you. Think about your past too. There are two types of learning: linear (classroom type) or associative. Linear is if you wish to master the full subject area. Associative means learning from the middle and skim through difficult areas, before going back etc. For example, one can read about particle physics without knowing the Newtonian physics. Learning for the sake of completing a project is also very meaningful. Be prepared for some form of experimentation. Compare syllabus. Find the textbook that are respected by teachers. Read textbook reviews. Get the older version. Look for libraries etc too. Evaluate sources of information. Read multiple sources for the same information. Probe on the background references. Look out the authors and search their backgrounds. Find a review article for academic information. You can find them in scholarly journals. Invite your friends to join in to your learning projects. Declare your intentions to others. Keep track of what you learn. You can use Evernote, notebooks etc. Write summaries and reflections too. Do your ’homework’ and then approach the experts. Read their work before you write to them. Give positive feedback. To get a job without a degree, you need to get employers to take a risk on you. Have a portfolio and explain your motivation behind creating a portfolio. Show how it relates to the job you want. Start small and write for the local paper first. Have the attitude of an apprentice. Be willing to ask questions and try new things.

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One thought on “Don’t Go Back to School by Kio Stark

  1. Hey Marcus! I saw this post about alternative learning opportunities, and thought you might be interested in checking out Leap Kit from Experience Institute — It has a lot of the elements you spoke about: a learning map, a community of peers, encouragement to document and reflect. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the project, and I could introduce you to Victor (the founder of Experience Institute) if you’re interested. Have a great day!

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