How to Educate Yourself Online

It’s amazing to see the resources we now have online for self education. The possibilities are virtually endless. I still remember how difficult it was before the Internet came. At that time, my best hope was the library, and I had no good one near me. Even in the early years of the Internet, there were only limited resources available.
These days though, you can learn just about anything online. Mention a subject and chance is you will find enough materials to fill months or even years of learning. In most cases, the availability of resources is no longer a problem.
Given such a situation, I believe these two principles apply to self education:

  • Your curiosity is the limit
    Since there are more than enough resources out there, what limits you is no longer resource availability. Instead, what limits you is your own curiosity. It’s like someone who explore an open land without any border in sight. How far she goes doesn’t depend on the size of the land but on the amount of fuel she had. Your curiosity is the fuel. The more you have it, the further you will go.
  • Your ability to prioritize becomes increasingly important
    While the resources are virtually unlimited, your time is not. So your ability to choose and prioritize what to learn becomes more important than ever. You should spend your limited time to learn the right subject and with the right depth. Not everything is worth your time, and for those that do, each deserves different amount of your time.

With those two principles in mind, a good model for self education is what I call the V model. In essence, it means that you should give low learning commitment to a lot of different subjects, and then increasingly more commitment to gradually fewer number of subjects. If you make a chart of them, the shape will look like a β€œV” which is why I call it the V model.
Based on the V model, here are a few steps to educate yourself online:
1. Read selectively on a wide range of subjects
The first level of the model deals with the widest range of subjects. Here you need to follow many different fields so that you know what’s going on out there. To do that without consuming too much time, you need to be selective in what you read.
I apply this by following a number of web sites through my RSS reader. Together, those sites produce a lot of articles every day. There is no way I can read them all. So what I do instead is I scan the titles quickly and then mark the ones that I’d like to read. Even if I mark an article, I will read it just enough to get the idea. As I said above, the key here is to be selective.
The nice thing about this method is that even just reading the titles can give you some understanding of what’s going on in a field.
2. Dig deeper into promising subjects
By doing the first step, you will notice a few things that seem promising. They could be an emerging trend, a new tool, a new market, or whatever it is that can take your work or life to the next level.
When you find such a thing, you may want to spend more time to learn about it. Here are a few things that you can do:

  • Read the Wikipedia articles
    This is a good place to start because Wikipedia gives you the definition and the background. It also shows you related topics that you can explore further. If the concept is complicated, you might want to use the Simple English version instead of the normal English version of Wikipedia.
  • Watch the YouTube videos
    Often what is difficult to understand by reading will become clear once you watch a tutorial or a presentation of it. For me, this is a good way to learn new tools and techniques.
  • Read people’s opinions at social media sites
    To really understand something new, it’s helpful to read other people’s opinion on it. The comment section of social media sites is a good place to do that. Reddit’s subreddits might meet your needs. Or you might want to visit Q&A sites like Stack Exchange.

Doing these should give you enough understanding of the subject. In many cases, you can stop here. But if you want more, you can go to the next step.
3. Take an online course
When I got interested in iOS app business, this is what I did. I took an online course on iOS app development. I watched all the videos and did all the exercises. Taking an online course takes a lot of time though, so you should do this only for a few selected subjects.
Two big aggregators of online courses are iTunes U and YouTube EDU. There you can find courses on many subjects from different institutions.
Recently, you can also take a course together with an online learning community. Here there is a due date for all the assignments and the assignments will be graded. Two places that offer such courses are Udacity and Coursera.
4. Create a real-world project
This is the deepest level of the V model and, in my opinion, a necessary step to really master something. Taking a course is good, but nothing can substitute the learning experiences you will get from being in the real world.
So, if you want to master something, create something real. Write a book. Develop an app. Create and maintain a blog. Do whatever it is that’s applicable to your situation.
Learning is a lifelong process. We are fortunate to have all these resources and opportunities online. Don’t waste them; make the best use of them instead.


  1. Great points, Donald. It’s wonderful what you can find and learn online. What a difference from just a few years ago.
    But, yes, you can also waste time. I especially use your suggestion of reading other’s opinions before I spend too much time on a particular course, article, or book.
    If we’re just learning for fun that’s one thing but if we’re working on a project or doing something for our business or a job, it really makes sense to use the experiences of others to help shorten our process. There’s no end to what we can learn but there certainly can be limitations on the time we invest!

  2. Dr Prakash Moghe
    Dr Prakash Moghe

    A very educative article indeed.

  3. Monique Avakian
    Monique Avakian

    I learned a lot from reading this article! I look forward to exploring the links. Your writing style is helpful in this busy world.

  4. Hi Donald,
    You are right. There is so much out there. The problem is sometimes it becomes impossible to filter what you need. I like the V Model. My theory is focus on what I need at this moment.
    The internet is a good tool but also a good time waster if not used wisely.

  5. Very good Donald, there is definately unlimited resources on the internet. Sometimes finding the right information can be a challenge since there is so much of it!
    I definately agree that taking the action and doing it is the best way to learn, as you can sit and think all day of what ‘might’ happen if you did something but you don’t REALLY know until you actually do it.
    And sometimes what happens is surprising.

  6. As there is so much to read, I recommend to learn photoreading.This method allows you to immediately get the gist of every text. If you “feel” that the text is not worthwhile, you don’t read ahead. Very helpful method for learning and growing.

  7. Interesting post. You make some good points that I tend to follow instinctually. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who think Google should be able to read their minds.

  8. Great post Donald!
    Without even knowing it, I’ve followed your V several times – astronomy, sailing, and now, sleep. My friends all look at me strange when I say I get all my news as Twitter feeds (RSS when they’re not available), and drill down on items I’m interested in. At the end of the day, you find you know a little bit about everything, but become very proficient at a few. Quite gratifying.

  9. Brilliant post as always, Donald! Great timing too! I have been blogging for almost 3 years now and recently became interested in taking web development courses online.
    I’ve been postponing because I couldn’t quite figure out how to manage my time. I feel there are so many resources out there that I can study, I just don’t have the time to figure out which ones are worth my time and attention. This helps.

  10. Nice article. I liked number 2 as I feel Wiki and YouTube are still very underrated as sources of information.

  11. Nowadays, there is a huge resource of information you can get on the net! And a lot of them are really good and for free! My favorite topics would be self-improvement and traffic building. πŸ˜‰
    I’m glad to stumble upon your blog and see you come from this part of the world (Southeast Asia). Hope to connect more with you in the future.

  12. I think it’s great that you included so many links in your post Donald. I’m a firm believer in the fact that education doesn’t end at the classroom. With the amount of free information available online there is just no reason not to try to learn something new everyday. Thanks for the inspiration, I’m going to be sure to check back for more posts.

  13. Good job and thanks for the tips!

  14. I love learning and I’m so grateful that we live in the time where we have the internet, as having so much information at our fingertips is such a blessing. I’m trying to help people learn how to write their first story, and so I just wanted to acknowledge that online learning from a giving perspective, like you are doing here, is also really rewarding.

  15. Hi Donald,
    These are wonderful points! I am ever so grateful to the internet and the amount of information we can have access to! I’ve learned to much online it’s unbelievable.
    Also I”m quoting you for this –
    ‘Your curiosity is the limit’ I agree and what a powerful phrase! Thanks!

  16. There are so many ways to get educated online. I take most of my continuing education classes online. It is cheaper and quicker and the material is professional. It’s the best way to go about it, I believe.

  17. That’s great!Donald.I’ll forever remain indebted to this forum.Thank y’all.

  18. About wikipedia though, don’t immediately believe what you read there. Do some more research and look for other sources of the same topic. Wiki is a good source of all sorts of info but you’re not guaranteed that everything in there is fact.

  19. Beautiful and interesting. The V Model is indeed nicely summarized, and moreover, in a practical way.
    Application of the model in daily life, especially for a high-school student like me is not so easy. But reading it definitely helped a lot, and improved my view on education.

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