Student or Self-Taught

So what’s the answer, should school leavers enroll for higher education or take the stay-at-home option get a job and self-learn…? This is a very real dilemma faced by students leaving school/ secondary education, the summer is over, now what? Personally, my time as a College (Polytechnic here in NZ) lecturer, student and being self-taught, has given me an insight to the difficult choice between which road to take in modern education. So, that’s what this essay is about, the pros, cons and in betweens of being self-educated and a student within an educational instantiation, combined with my own values and thoughts as student and teacher. I’m not relating my thoughts to any particular subject, however if I were it would be subjects within the creative industry…

The choice dilemma for learners in a modern education.

Choose a Self-Taught Education

Who needs a formal higher education when there is all the information and knowledge you’ll ever need, out there for free, right? Institutions can charge $36,000 (conservatively) for tuition fees. With access to a world of knowledge over the internet, “teach yourself” titled books and online interactive education platforms such as Treehouse and Lynda, choosing a self-education makes financial sense. Self-teaching (autodidacticism) or self-learning encourages learners to manage their own time-table, allowing them to work full time in a relative industry to learn from peers, “learning on the job” reinforces a “real world” requirement to prioritise and meet real deadlines.

Learning on ones own also enforces a sense of ownership over a subject. I’m entirely self-taught in front-end Website Design and Development but, this is due to my own self-discipline to sit down and learn this subject in my own time. Self-teaching also means learners are able to make mistakes and troubleshoot them in a quest for progression, this, in my option is a valuable asset to learning. Having the opportunity to construct/ practice in solitary does deepen learning, causing a leaner to analyse, evaluate and ultimately understand. Choosing to self-teach after (or at any time) secondary school does require a unique personality, self-discipline, determination, positive attitude and good organizational skills are also a must.

In my experience as a teacher I’ve met students, where being within an academic institution is actually harming their learning experience. Those who do not suit a higher educational institution tend to enroll because of social reasons and detachment anxiety caused after leaving a secondary education, these students tend to harbor a reluctance to learn under direction, therefor a “year out” or period of self-teaching might be the answer before enrolling in an institution. The overriding factor is having the opportunity for “self-discovery” to take place. At school leaving age, most learners don’t actually know what they want, so learning from home whilst being employed might actually be the best way forward for those unsure or without direction, the most important thing during this time is to do something not nothing.

Being a self-teacher is massively rewarding, surrounding yourself with others who are also learning and those who have the knowledge is invaluable. But, how do you gauge your level of ability? Institutions reward retained and applied knowledge through testing levels of ability, thus helping a learner measure their own ability and apply focus to areas that might be failing. However, self-learning is rewarded in other ways, employment is one reward in particular, the reality is, you’re doing well you have a job, do badly you’re fired! On the other hand if a chosen path leads directly to a freelance position, then having regular commissions and client feedback can also be a good way to measure a level of ability. More over, choosing to work for free as a shadow or assistant to someone in a successful role is also highly valuable as a self-learner.

Lets take a moment to realise that attending an educational institution is not for everyone and those who dropped out have achieved huge success, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Simon Cowell, Sir Alan Michael Sugar, John Lennon, Coco Chanel, Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres and the list goes on… However, what all these people possess is an ability to educate themselves, relay on the skills they already had, manage their time and money to great effect and often benefit from a network of friends and family who open doors and provide financial safety nets. To have all of these things does not guarantee a successful career nor does it ensure a happy life, but one quality is shared by them all and that’s the ability to overcome no matter what the cost.

Choose a Higher Educational Institution

Choosing to enroll at a higher educational institution is not for everyone. So many find themselves in a situations where they feel they’re forced in to joining a college, polytechnic or university after secondary school because… well, it’s just what you do. it’s essential to take the time to answer the question “can I better invest 2, 3, 4 years of my life doing something else…?”. Investing this amount of time to study can be the most rewarding and life changing decision anyone can ever make. For a young person the benefits of enrolling at an educational institution will shape their personality for the future, for the first time, responsibility is given to manage, organize and shape their own social and educational development. A higher educational institution gives security and structure familiar to previous education, making the transition in to a professional working life less stressful or culture shock. The social development is hugely important also, the meeting and bonding with people studying the same specialist subject can be invaluable. Friendships are formed with like minded people that can later provide professional connections within an industry – cue the phrase “it’s not what you know but, who you know that matters”?

Higher educational institutions provide expert guidance, tutors running courses present first hand knowledge, a working knowledge with professional insight combined with the ability to teach. Good teaching is an art, requiring patience and the ability to hold a learners attention, a good teacher will also provide guidance for learning outside the curriculum. Autodidacticism upon a structured tuition provides a powerful route to developing a deeper knowledge. Learning within an environment that has an individuals education as it’s primary focus is unique, institutions provide pastoral care, students can loose momentum and focus, one-to-one consultations are maintained by a tutor to help a learner get back on track. Contrary to popular belief teachers, lecturers and tutors do actually care about a student with issues, methods are put in place, professorial and personal guidance is provided by the institution (as standard), to get the learner back in to a productive line of education. This is the opposite to an employment, for instance if an employee becomes uninspired, there is little to no support provided within a company. One fundamental reason we have educational institutions is to provide an environment for education to take place, without the influences and stresses of exterior issues.

Often learning a subject for the first time (or continually) can seam daunting, demoralising even, due to the shear magnitude of a subject. A good tutor will break this down in to steps, digestible and comprehensible to a learner, slowly advancing the skills and abilities when that group or individual is ready to advance. A tutor will also use a range or techniques to explain and demonstrate complex areas to cater for a wide rage of learning styles/ abilities. A secure group environment also provides a forum for open discussion and analysis, elements of confusion can be discussed and solutions can found to through discussion, ensuring a coherency for everyone. Some learners would prefer to be shown and instructed rather than left to discover on their own, this creates a stronger cohesion with the subject, retention is formed quicker with the aid of practical examples within context.

But, this all might sound good and it is, however the big question is, “will a formal education (Degree or Masters) provide a higher rate of pay or secure working future?” Unfortunately a culture has established where students believe that having a degree will guarantee they’ll walk in to a job that pays 30+ a year, as little as 20 years ago this was likely to be the case however, today it’s easy to gain finatual support and enroll. So with the abundance of highly educated graduates out there, competition is high, thus devaluing the Degree or Masters in a job applications. Employers often choose experience over education becuse they’re looking for someone to deploy right away without the cost of training being a factor. So why go through three years of education only to be rejected at the start line…? Well, let me explain the truth about having a higher education.

The Hard Truth

Having a Degree does not ensure a high paid job right away (or at all), in fact, at the start it can become a hindrance, graduates become over-qualified for many low rate jobs which may be needed for providing some quick cash. Graduates start at the bottom rung of the employment ladder in all working industries (just like everyone else) and compete with others boasting a desirable working experience. Having a degree or higher formal education does indicate commitment and focus, these are two traits that an employer is looking for outside of required skills.

Employers prefer candidates with experience in a real working environment because the intensity of employment is far higher than that of study and the time taken to condition (train) an employee (fresh out of study) impacts a company financially. However, a candidate with both a Degree and experience is more than desirable, on paper, these credentuals will guarantee an interview, leaving securinhg the job up to personality and individual talent. So, in that respect, gaining experience may seam like catch 22 but, once achieved, employability is literally doubled. When proof of a higher education is a job requirement, a formal certification provided by an institution is criterion of ability and knowledge of a subject, online courses are great learning aids but, they do not prove ability officially or carry recognised credentials.

In my opinion, investing in a formal education makes sense. There is nothing out there like school, except for school. Younger individuals need to be prepared for a massive change in culture, they’re now in charge of their own life and need be ready to make some bad decisions – the trick is to make them only once. There is no quick answer to becoming an expert in a chosen field, it takes blood, tears, long hours, heartbreak and hard, hard fucking work to achieve notable levels of ability. Those who promote an easy road to success with the read of a book or a monthly subscription need slapping. Becoming a professional and making a living requires a relentless drive (enjoyment) to keep learning, staying on the curve and achieving refinement through repetition.