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Autodidacticism is where an individual is considered to be self-taught. The term's definition ranges widely. At the most inaccurate, misuse of the term infers homeschooling, tutoring or other systems of non-traditional education, all of which are structured and often involve teachers. At the most purist, use of the term infers reading, research and experimentation all specifically without a teacher and study that is wholly outside the influence of structured academic systems and institutions. The intended use of autodidacticism usually settles somewhere in between these two definitions.

Generally autodidacticism references one field of study by an individual. Many autodidacts are also polymaths (individuals who excel in many diverse fields of study, also called renaissance men or women), but most have formal education somewhere in their background. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci had formal training in art, whereas some of his greatest contributions were in the sciences and engineering. In contrast, Joseph Campbell is considered by some as an autodidact despite extensive formal education in his field of expertise, due to his five year period of independent study reading nine hours every day.

Mark Twain is a more exemplary model of autodidacticism. His only formal training in the field of writing was perhaps from his father, an attorney and local judge, and during his apprenticeship with a local printer from ages 12 to 15. For the four years following that, he joined the printer's union, but self-educated himself in public libraries in the evenings. Quintessential to his style of writing, little academic influence is apparent in any of his works. Twain once said, "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

The advent of new information movements often burgeons autodidacticism. Leonardo da Vinci was born the year Johannes Gutenberg began his Bible project on his printing press with movable type, ushering in an exchange of ideas unparalleled since the Library of Alexandria. Mark Twain was the first person to ever submit a novel to a publisher written by typewriter, the laptop innovation of the late 19th century. Likewise, autodidacticism is experiencing a rebirth with the advent of the internet since the 1990s.

Established organizations for independent scholars exist in Canada and the United States where autodidacts come together to access university quality research resources -- often very difficult to access as an individual -- as well as to participate in collaborative study. Such organizations include the National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS) and the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars (CAIS). The CAIS has released a publication, available free online, called The Independent Scholar's Handbook by Ronald Gross. There are also a host of websites available online for autodidactic resources (see sources below).


All sources last accessed and verified: June 27, 2010.


Author: Ora Uzel