Originally published January 17, 2019
Last updated June 6, 2019
Posted in 

My name is Alex, and I’m an autodidact. (“Hi, Alex!”)

I spent the summer break setting goals for my side-project(s), as I think of this work I’m doing: the writing, the educating, the community building, and whatever comes along with it. It turns out that if you want to write the sort of things I want to write, there’s a lot that comes along with it.

This year, I’m hoping to publish a number of deeply researched, well-constructed articles about (mostly) queer communities, history, sexualities, etc. I quickly realised, though, that I didn’t quite have the background to do them justice.

People are usually surprised to learn how little formal academic education I have, especially in the humanities. The last time I studied anything like that was compulsory VCE English at age 17, in the early 1990s. I was streamed firmly into STEM and studied IT at university, though I dropped out, as so many did, with the first dot-com boom. Since then I’ve gone from a sense of deep inferiority at not being able to understand conversations at university parties, to spending years reading, listening, and rapidly taking in ideas from online social justice movements, to hanging with scholars in a variety of humanities fields.

These days I feel like I mostly understand what’s being talked about by my academic friends… but only mostly. I’ve encountered many of the key texts in paraphrase or summary or, indeed, comic book form. As I considered the work I wanted to do this year, I realised I was going to have to go deeper.

While I know how to use a library, I haven’t had to learn academic referencing; while I know how to build a website, I don’t know how to build a cohesive argument in any formal sense; while I have opinions and gut feelings on a lot of things, I don’t have research to back them up and I don’t necessarily know how to do that research effectively.

This year, 2019, is the year I’m planning to change that. I have study goals to go along with my writing goals, I’m learning tools and processes, and I’m planning to blog about them.

So far I’ve taken two significant steps in learning how to learn (and write, and publish, and all that).

The first is that I started a small slack group for some friends who were also interested in self-directed learning. A few of us are reading from a gender studies syllabus together, while we also have a channel to discuss study skills, and a channel where one of my collaborators and I share material related to a research project. I imagine we’ll expand our subject matter with time.

The second is that I put together a syllabus for myself for “Study Skills 101” – a collection of books, web resources, and other materials to bring me up to speed on the things I might have learnt through formal academic study in the humanities. I’m planning to read a dozen or more books on related subjects over the next six months or so.

One thing that’s struck me even at this early stage is that the language of “self directed learning,” “independent learning,” and “autodidacticism,” doesn’t match the reality. I’ve always been someone who enjoys bouncing ideas around with others, asking people for their views and suggestions, and sharing what I learn. The idea of an autodidact as a solo practitioner, working in isolation, is largely false (though I suppose there are some out there).

Kio Stark, in the introduction to “Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook For Learning Anything,” writes:

That’s the open secret of learning outside of school. It’s a social act. Learning is something we do together. Independent learners are interdependent learners.

Between this, and the help I’ve had from so many friends with experience in my fields, I’m clearly not going to be going into this alone.

If you’re an in(ter)dependent learner in queer stuff, maybe with a tech slant, and would like to share ideas, I’d love to hear from you.


Barker, Meg-John, and Julia Scheele. Queer: A Graphic History. London: Icon Books, 2016. (Borrow, Buy)

Stark, Kio. Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything, self-published, 2013. (Borrow)

Alex Bayley is a tech industry refugee, independent researcher, writer, educator and community builder. They live in Ballarat, west of Melbourne, Australia.

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  1. Ben Lever on January 17, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    That’s interesting what you say about autodidacts learning together with others – that hasn’t been my experience at all. I totally agree it’s useful, I’ve just always struggled to find others to learn with (outside of formal settings) at least in the early stages

  2. Alex Bayley on January 17, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    It’s obviously not universal, but I pretty quickly hit a point where I want to talk to others. Usually around the 17th Wikipedia tab

  3. Alex Bayley on January 17, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    But I’m that way with everything – work projects, tv shows, comparison shopping. I always want to talk them over and figure out what I don’t know, or synthesize what I do know. I guess I’m a verbal learner, and I’ve made friends with a bunch of others.