One of the most challenging and gratifying parts of learning alone is the opportunity to search for and select your own learning material. Students in traditional classrooms usually don’t get to decide how they are going to master course content. Instructors decide for them in the form of textbook selection, quizzes, tests, group projects, etc. As an independent learner, you can make your study time more effective by using only the learning methods that work for you.
A resource plan is a document used to brainstorm the learning material you can use when you begin your studies. Before you write a step-by-step schedule, think of every resource that is available to you (such as books, websites, knowledgeable people, etc). Narrow down the most useful resources and include them in your resource plan.
This article will show you how to create a resource plan to use in your independent studies. You may download and resource plan graphic organizer in Microsoft Word Format (click here to download) or you can type or write the plan on any piece of paper. Be sure to write the plan down, however. You’ll want to refer to this information as you learn.
Step 1: Set a Goal
The first step to creating a resource plan is to decide on a single goal. Each resource plan should have only one goal – if you want to learn Spanish, study Russian literature, and become a journalist, make a separate plan for each. Make your goal as narrow and well-defined as possible. For example: instead of listing “learn Spanish” as your goal, write something such as “Be able to exchange essential information with Spanish speakers at restaurants, stores, and clubs when visiting Mexico.” Choosing a concrete goal will make it easier for you to focus your studies and will help you judge your progress. Consider these examples:
Ineffective Goal – Learn HTML
Effective Goal – Create several websites using HTML, referring only minimally to a coding book.
Ineffective Goal – Learn about American literature.
Effective Goal – Identify and read 100 classic American novels, memorize the major time periods in American literature, and be able to discuss major American authors.
Step 2: Collect Materials
The next step is to brainstorm all of the physical (and virtual) materials you can use to help achieve your goal. Here are a few of the most common materials you’ll need:
Books – The written word is still one of the best ways to learn a subject. Generally, avoid textbooks in favor of multiple volumes written by experts. Textbooks are generally limited and subjective – although, they can be helpful if you’re looking for a brief and cohesive overview of a subject. Amazon.com is a great place to search for books; make use of their suggestions and lists. You can also find books by asking a librarian or browsing library shelves. Don’t forget to ask an expert – they generally will come up with niche suggestions you haven’t heard of before.
Websites – There’s a website for just about any topic, no matter how narrow. Sift through the “trash” sites to find websites that offer in-depth information, lively forums, up-to-the-moment updates, or other valuable features related to the subject you are studying. Be sure to check out the material in the free online class directory from this website.
Multimedia (Audio / Visual) – You can find a variety of multimedia material both online and off. Look for videos and audio lectures related to your subject. Search for photographs and podcasts. Many universities now offer free multimedia Opencourseware, course components available at no charge to the virtual public.
Step 3: Make Connections
Yes, this website is called “Self-Made Scholar,” but that doesn’t mean you can do it all alone. Depending on the subject you are studying, meeting with knowledgeable people can be an essential part of the learning process. Make a list of all the people who may be able to help you study. There are two types of learning relationships you’ll need to create: mentor relationships and peer relationships.
A mentor is an expert who can help you master the material – the person may be a professor, a writer, or a knowledgeable hobbyist. It is best to have several mentors, each who can help you with a different subset of your studies. A mentor doesn’t need to “teach” you, but he or she should be someone you can call on for guidance, someone who will help you through difficulties, and someone who can help you find the resources you need to learn independently.
A peer is someone who is also studying the subject you are learning about. Peers should be at your own level and available for occasional discussions. The benefits of having a network of peers include: the ability to maximize your learning by talking about it, having people to “test” your ideas on, the chance to hear different opinions, and encouragement via a support group. You can find peers online (message boards, etc) and offline – it’s best to have a variety.
Step 4: Take Action
Finally, make a list of the actions you will need to take. Once you’ve read about your subject and talked about your subject, what will you need to actually DO, to make your goal a reality? Actions may include attending events, shows, or lectures. You may need to visit a museum or gallery. Perhaps you’ll need to buy supplies, join a club, or do an experiment. For example, if you want to learn about modern art, you may want to visit modern art exhibits, attend art lectures, and invite local artists over for dinner. If you want to become a photographer, consider buying a camera, joining a photography club, and asking a photographer if you can tag along when he/she goes on a shoot. Taking action should be fun – think outside the box to come up with creative ways to learn.
Once you’ve completed the resource plan you’ll be prepared to break your major goal into smaller, everyday goals. Keep this plan on hand as you begin your studies – if you’ve done a thorough job, it can be invaluable.