How do we create more autodidacts?
Gas station without pumps raises a really interesting point (a good one to use in ending 2014 — an important topic to reflect on over the holidays): How do we prepare students to be autodidacts? I agree with him, that being an autodidact is not an innate quality. It’s an important question, particularly in computing education when there is so little formal schooling available.
In learning sciences’ terms, an autodidact is a self-regulated learner (see definition here). I’ve seen lists of strategies used by self-regulated learners, and even how to teach self-regulation strategies to gifted learners (see example here). A common strategy of self-regulated learners is self explanation (see Chi’s 1994 paper on self-explanation strategies), i.e., monitoring one’s learning by explaining it back to oneself. Mimi Recker and Pete Pirolli showed that self-explanation strategies could be taught to improve learning about programming (see paper here). It’s a great area for future research, especially in computing.
So I know how to be an autodidact, but how do I teach it to others? That is a question I have no easy answers for. I try giving open-ended assignments, I try scaffolding by having students search for answers to specific questions, I try deliberately leaving material out of a lecture or a lab handout and telling students to go read about it in Wikipedia, and I try whatever else I can think of that will get students to learn on their own. For some students something clicks, and they start doing more learning on their own—sometimes a lot more. For others, I’ve not found a secret sauce.