For learning new courses by one's self is it better

  • to read the related text

  • to attend online courses such as from sites like Coursera

  • to combine the two

  • or use another method altogether

In general, which is the better strategy for a motivated adult learner who is entering a new area?

  • Go to the physical classroom to attend the lecture is the best way. – scaaahu Oct 23 '14 at 6:39
  • if i get a chance, i would surely go for physical classrooms. But my doubt is regarding online courses and books. Thanks – kanatti Oct 23 '14 at 6:46
  • 6
    I don't think there's any objective correct answer for this: some people learn better one way, other people learn better the other way – ff524 Oct 23 '14 at 7:31
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is about learning in a non-academic context. – RoboKaren Oct 23 '14 at 15:53
  • 1
    Start teaching it. (Ha ha only serious.) – JeffE Oct 24 '14 at 3:31

There isn't any wrong way to cover course material, but different approaches may be more or less effective for learning. However, it is difficult for a stranger to give you definitive advice, since what works best for you may not be the same as what has worked in the past for other students. At the same time, certain learning styles or strategies seem to be effective for a large number of students.

My advice if you want to start learning on your own in a new subject area is the following, in roughly this order:

  1. Read. Take advantage of textbooks, lecture notes & slides, and articles that cover your subject of interest. You shouldn't expect to understand everything, but you should continue reading and re-reading material as you gain more understanding of the subject.

  2. Search for and learn about resources and tools related to your subject of interest. What do other students, teachers, or experts on this subject use or rely on? This should lead to more reading, which will give you more perspective on the subject.

  3. Try to find things that link the new material to thing you know and understand. Look for analogies, similarities, and differences.

  4. Keep track of your questions--questions raised by your reading, questions that arise from new ideas that challenge your perspectives or understanding of basic principles. Try to find answers to your questions; seek advice from people (or forums attended by knowledgeable people) to explore solutions to your questions.


There is no best way to learn a new course, some people better learn by attending classes and some other better learn by reading textbooks and reviewing lecture-notes and pamphlets. I know a person from my bachelors degree who did not used to come to classes. He just used to photocopy the lecture notes and read them before the exams. On the other hand, I used to always attend the classes and did not miss even one minute of them.

In order to learning a new subject, these come to my mind; but I think you should examine each and choose the best way which suits your own learning habits.

  1. Attend some physical classes. Take notes and do the assignments. However, if you are not registering for the course, talk to the lecturer before the class.

  2. Register for open course-wares and do online learning.

  3. Search for the best textbooks in that course and try to read them.

  4. Ask a friend who can help you in that course to teach you one or two hours a week. One of my friends asked his friend to teach him an engineering software two to three hours a week and now he can easily work with that software.

  5. Group study with friend(s) who are learning that course, try to solve each other problems. This may also help you better stick to the course. People sometimes get bored when they self-study a topic.

However, depending on the level of the course you may need to choose wisely. If you are aiming to learn a post-graduate course, you may also need to read some papers and discuss your problems with a professor specializing in that branch of science, while some of the under-graduate courses do not always require to talk to a professor. You can ask your questions from a teaching-assistant, a friend with high marks in that course or even discuss with a friend who is also learning that course, or even ask your questions in a related online question and answer website or forum.

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