Self-taught students: how today's young people learn and how to encourage them to 'learn to learn'

As Internet access increases for Brazilian children and adolescents, many of them become self-taught. According to the IIC Kids Online Brazil 2017 survey, released by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (, 92% of children and adolescents between 9 and 17 years old had already accessed the internet in 2017, and 64% had already done research motivated by curiosity or self-will.

For Professor Ísis Lima, master in neurobiology at UFMG, postgraduate professor at PUC Minas and active in teacher training, although many believe that self-learning has to do with geniality, almost anyone can be self-taught. But in information era, it is important to understand that simply accessing information is different from knowledge.

And that’s where the role of the teacher as a mediator in the classroom comes in, someone who shows the student how he can learn by himself. In this post, we’ll show you how to encourage your students to be self-taught and give you some practical tips to successfully guide them on their self-paced learning journey.

Self-taught: education from autonomy

According to Professor Isis, all real learning is actually self-directed by the individual himself because knowledge can only be actively achieved through observation and questioning something that may have been proposed by a teacher, parent or counselor, but it has to become a personal initiative.

Schools are the ideal environment for proposing the self-search for knowledge and presenting the possible means of achieving it, be it through debates, in-depth discussions, group work or other activities. But learning does not only occur in the school environment, nor is the teacher’s role restricted to helping the student find knowledge only there.

Therefore, whether at school or outside, the role of the educator today is to mediate, to work as a mentor of young people by guiding them towards knowledge, self-knowledge and the development of their individuality –  essential aspects of self-learning.

The teacher as a mentor

“Most of the teachers I work with, from kindergarten to college, are still very restricted to a thought, due to the schooling process they have gone through”, analyzes Ísis.

“It’ not that teacher’s authority should be demystified, but we need to return to Plato’s concept of the true academy and give up on the standardized school model,” she argues. Given this scenario, the ideal is for the teacher to break with the model in which he is the transmitter of information to a passive audience and assume the role of mentor.

Therefore, it is necessary to use methodologies in which the student speaks more than he does in the classroom, always in a strategically conducted manner. Hybrid teaching, for example, is one such possibility.

As a mentor, the teacher encourages the student to be active in their learning and to exercise self-learning.

Tips to help self-taught students

Self-teaching involves elaborating a learning methodology of their own. Considering this, the teacher can help the student to think of a methodology that is appropriate to their profile and has the potential to find answers to their questions. It is also advisable to help them deal with the diversity of responses that will emerge and aspects of this search process such as frustrations, resilience, ethical and moral values.

Give students different study tools that they can use for learning outside school. Mind map, for example, has appeared in neuroscientific studies as a technique that benefits many students.

Another tip is to encourage students to invest in content that does not need very strict linearity to be assimilated, as they have greater potential for success in teacherless learning. Music, foreign languages, and software use all fall into this type of content.

Encouraging and guiding young people towards autonomous knowledge is certainly a challenging but very rewarding challenge as it helps to create a generation that can transform today’s abundance of information into knowledge.

One way to encourage this autonomy is to use the flipped classroom technique. Understand how it works and how you can get the most out of this idea.

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