Is it better to be taught or self-taught?

I heard a saying recently: someone who is self-taught is learning from someone who doesn’t know anything.

Ha. Very clever.

Most people who I know who are self-taught use resources created by people who know stuff, they’re just not in a formal class or studying with a teacher.

And those who just dive in and figure it out as they go? Unless they’re teaching themselves to do something that hasn’t yet been done, they have points of reference. Something inspired them to take the journey and continues to fuel them—after the initial excitement, learning is often not easy—and that something was most likely created by someone who knows more than they do.

The beauty of having a teacher is to avoid bad habits from the beginning, to be given a map, and to be given feedback.

The downfall of having a teacher is that not all teachers instill good habits, give accurate maps, or give constructive feedback.

Getting a great teacher is far superior to being self-taught, unless you need the accolades for not having a teacher. It’s “just” a matter of finding the right one.

How do you learn best? One aspect of a great teacher is whether your brains match. I’ve had very knowledgeable and kind people show me how to do a task, and the way they did it and the way I wanted to do it didn’t line up. Same task from a different person whose brain works more like mine, and the whole thing is much easier. 

On the other hand, teachers and classes cost money, so self-teaching is a great way to get moving if resources are limited.

My take on the saying that opened this conversation? There’s not anything inherently worse about being self-taught than having a teacher and/or a class, and our cultural preference for formal schooling enables unnecessary gatekeepers and disempowers those who can’t do formal school for any number of valid reasons. But if you’re doing work that isn’t self-correcting, having solid people to give constructive feedback is useful.

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