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How To Keep Yourself On Track With Independent Learning


“Give yourself a pat on the back.”

When was the last time you heard that old adage? This little self-congratulatory gesture comes in the form of an imperative statement. Someone told you that you did well, and you should congratulate yourself.

But what about when you’ve set out to learn something independently? How will you measure your successes and setbacks then? Chief among these concerns: How will you ever know when you deserve a pat on the back? Online learning and e-courses are on the rise, and studies have shown they’re becoming popular, fun ways to learn.


The arrival of a world of shared and open knowledge and the potential for self-instruction is not without its challenges. Let’s zero in on the difficulty of determining your personal progress and success in the realm of self-education, and explore a few methods for actualizing your potential.

Rethinking Educational Expectations

Here’s the deal: you're human and you've endeavoured to improve yourself in some aspect or another. Great! Naturally, you want to see your progress so you can decide if your time is being used effectively.

This is where things get tricky. If any part of you holds yourself to the standards of traditional educational evaluation, even subconsciously, then you might feel like you’re getting nowhere. You have to remember that you have no teacher for grades, or day-to-day peers to compare notes with. It's just you.

So you have to make a shift. Trello can be an incredible tool in overcoming this issue of measuring progress in a very simple way.

Showing Your Work (A Real World Example)


Let’s talk about putting this theory into practice. When I was in school I had to take a few French-language courses, but I never took my education in foreign languages much farther than being able to say a few key phrases to get by. Someday I’d like to go to Europe, so now’s the time to try and increase my vocabulary.

I found a free course online that is self-paced and looks pretty helpful! It even has a forum where students can talk and pair up to practice what they’ve learned over video conferences.

The course has four units, so my board will reflect which unit I’m currently on. When I’ve finished a unit, I’ll archive all the cards I don’t need anymore, and keep the cards that are still useful around for the next unit.


My board operates from left to right: incomplete to complete. On the left I have resources that could be useful, bookmarks, and any miscellaneous notes that I might need to refer to throughout the course.

Next, all of my assignments are listed to the right. The current assignment I’m working on gets moved to “On The Go.” When I’m done an assignment, I move it to “Done.” As the course progresses, and I move through units, I’ll archive my finished assignments, any events I went to, and whatever other cards that are no longer relevant to where I am in the course (but might be relevant later).

Blocked Cards: No Can Do

Sometimes I will write up a list entitled “Blocked.” The Blocked list contains any cards that rely on an external resource before they can be marked as done. So let’s say I need to finish my essay, but can’t do so until I get feedback on the intro paragraph I wrote. I got this idea from a Trello template board used by people doing something called  “scrum” (which is an approach to organizing teams and workflow, especially in software development).

I find having a “Blocked” list very helpful in making what I can do at the moment more apparent, which can also help reduce stress.


Keeping It All Together

My process here keeps everything in a self-contained board. I can refer to my progress throughout the course and can always jump into the archive to refer to my previous work from other units and see what I’ve accomplished.

Having everything contained in one board is particularly useful. I can evaluate my current work (what’s on the actual board) against what’s in the archive, without ever leaving the board. My archive can detail everything I’ve accomplished, failed at, received feedback on, and so on — and I can see it all at a glance.

Now then, I’ve decided I deserve a pat on the back— just a quick one — there’s always plenty more to learn.