• NielsBohron@lemmy.world
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    6 months ago

    I teach chemistry at a community college and we’ve been using OpenStax for a few years now with pretty successful results. The math, physics, and bio departments have used them as well, and I think they are pretty satisfied.

    In general, these are great resources for autodidacts, but an even better option is to take a class at your local community college if at all possible. It’s great that the sum of human knowledge is available at the tip of your fingers, but there’s a lot to be said for the scaffolding and structure that higher education provides, because the instructors and the courses really help to make connections that are difficult to understand when you’re learning it on your own.

    As an aside, I get that this is a community for autodidacts, but at the college level, it’s really hard to get really good at something on your own. The most gifted and dedicated autodidact I’ve ever known came into my chem classes thinking that it was just a hoop to jump through and ended up thanking me for dissuading him of that idea. And as a bit of not-so-humble brag, he’s now at one of the top 20 universities in the US doing chemistry and neuroscience research. I can’t claim credit for his accomplishments, but I can say that he wouldn’t have gotten there without actually taking that first step and enrolling in a class after already trying to learn it on his own.

    • jadero@slrpnk.net
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      6 months ago

      I’ve been thinking about this idea of self-teaching for many decades, because I like nothing more than learning new things beyond the “Trivial Pursuit” level.

      In general, I think what is most missing on the journey is curriculum and lesson plans. The texts and reference materials have never been easier to access, although they’ve never been very hard to access. The real challenges are closely related:

      1. Setting concrete and practical objectives, identifying relevant prerequisites, and structuring the whole into a coherent plan with each step connected to and building on the previous while simultaneously laying the foundations for the next is one challenge.

      2. Much harder in many ways is the development of evaluations for adequately assessing the current state of knowledge and skill in a way that points the way to remedial work.

      3. Having the discipline to then fully engage with and follow that plan, being careful to not skip steps or move to the next step before achieving sufficient mastery of the current one. Then to engage with remedial materials to shore up weaknesses.

      In combination, this is why even merely adequate classrooms are typically superior to living rooms and shops. And I say this as someone who is primarily self-taught as a programmer.

      What I would like to see more of is materials accessible to the layperson to help them develop curricula, lesson plans, and evaluations. Better yet would be direct access to existing curricula, lesson plans, and evaluations. For me, it was a hard won lesson to discover that my biggest obstacle to learning something on my own was the tendency to not start at the very beginning.

      • Elle@lemmy.world
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        6 months ago

        For me, it was a hard won lesson to discover that my biggest obstacle to learning something on my own was the tendency to not start at the very beginning.

        I absolutely agree, and unfortunately in my experience I ran into this as much in my formal education as my informal education. Not to knock my formal education, as I wasn’t a great student in some ways and I think my curiosity was at times more intense than necessarily suited it, yet I found some of my troubles learning were that even formal education seems to struggle with determining where and how to start.

        Take a classic example of a subject students struggle with like mathematics. For some students the issue is a matter of relating it to anything practical/real-world, however I also suspect for others the issue is both that and trying to grasp, without always knowing how to articulate it, the logical fundamentals that support and validate it. For many students it may be sufficient to begin with the basics of counting, adding, subtracting, and so on, but if you don’t ground it both intellectually and practically, it’s no surprise the further some students go the more difficulty they have finding it of any relevance.

        It’s similar with the subject of language imo. The practical part perhaps not as much, but establishing a foundation for why/how certain linguistic elements emerge and are arranged as they are, as well as how they continue to change, would I think better serve students along their start than a hollow, “This is just how it is” sort of approach that one may encounter in some early education/learning. Although perhaps I’m a very specific minority in this case, and some of the intellectual rationale for different subjects may be overkill for many to help them get going.

        • jadero@slrpnk.net
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          6 months ago

          Take a classic example of a subject students struggle with like mathematics. For some students the issue is a matter of relating it to anything practical/real-world, however I also suspect for others the issue is both that and trying to grasp, without always knowing how to articulate it, the logical fundamentals that support and validate it.

          That is a great example of why it’s so important to identify the true beginning for your starting point. My son was struggling with early math (grade 2) and the teacher was quite concerned. I spent 2 weeks working the number line with him (something the teacher seemed to have never heard of) and he was caught right up.

          Over the course of the next couple of months, my son discovered (with guidance, of course) what happens if you extend the number line below zero, then add other number lines in other dimensions, to get multiplication, squares and cubes and their roots. He even gained an awareness that it was abstractly or conceptually possible to go beyond 3 dimensions, even if they can’t be directly experienced. He never again struggled with any math.

          The teacher was livid, by the way, because instead of requiring additional attention as a result of falling behind, he was requiring additional attention because he had raced ahead. :)

      • NielsBohron@lemmy.world
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        6 months ago

        For me, it was a hard won lesson to discover that my biggest obstacle to learning something on my own was the tendency to not start at the very beginning.

        Yes! This is exactly what I see. Moreover, even if one does have the discipline to start at the beginning, the introductory courses are filled with material that doesn’t seem relevant to the area you’re actually interested in, so it’s even harder to stay disciplined and learn those topics, too. But for the layperson, it’s often impossible to know whether that “unrelated” material will eventually turn out to be foundational in some aspect of another field.

        What I would like to see more of is materials accessible to the layperson to help them develop curricula, lesson plans, and evaluations

        Frankly, Khan Academy and other similar resources are great for breaking up courses into “chunks” that are easier to digest than an entire textbook, so that’s a great place to start. It still doesn’t provide the feedback that you’d get from a teacher/tutor on assignments, but it would provide a decent framework if one started at the beginning and worked their way through. The only idea I can come up with to get personalized feedback at this point (short of taking a class, of course) would be to work through practice problems from a textbook or lesson plan and then find a private tutor to evaluate your work. It’s pretty easy to check your answers, but if you get anything wrong it’s pretty hard to find your errors on your own, so you’d really be asking the tutor to grade your work and point you in the right direction when you make mistakes.

        There are people working on tools to help with this side, but I don’t think any of them are all that close to fruition (AFAIK)

        • jadero@slrpnk.net
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          6 months ago

          Moreover, even if one does have the discipline to start at the beginning, the foundational courses are filled with material that doesn’t seem relevant to the area you’re actually interested in, so it’s even harder to stay disciplined and learn those topics, too.

          Yes! When I was analyzing the various things I would need to learn if I were to ever be able to call myself a programmer, I was somewhat dismayed to realize that the manual skill of typing was not just on the critical path, but at the start.

          In later years, as an instructor, the single biggest challenge I had was convincing students (and staff and administration!) that failure to master the keyboard would be forever an obstacle to their development. (There are now voice systems like cursorless that almost completely eliminate the keyboard, but that wasn’t the case then.)

  • spaduf@slrpnk.netOPM
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    6 months ago

    This is an initiative that has been active in producing peer-review open textbooks since 2012.