Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) or self-education (also self-learning and self-teaching) is education without the guidance of masters (such as teachers and professors) or institutions (such as schools). Generally, an autodidact is an individual who chooses the subject they will study, their studying material, and the studying rhythm and time. An autodidact may or may not have formal education, and their study may be either a complement or an alternative to it. Many notable contributions have been made by autodidacts.
Various terms are used to describe self-education. One such is heutagogy, coined in 2000 by Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon of Southern Cross University in Australia; others are self-directed learning and self-determined learning. In the heutagogy paradigm, a learner should be at the centre of their own learning.
Autodidacticism is sometimes a complement of modern education. As a complement to education, students would be encouraged to do more independent work. The Industrial Revolution created a new situation for self-directed learners.
Before the twentieth century, only a small minority of people received an advanced academic education. As stated by Joseph Whitworth in his influential report on industry dated from 1853, literacy rates were higher in the United States. However, even in the U.S., most children were not completing high school. High school education was necessary to become a teacher. In modern times, a larger percentage of those completing high school also attended college, usually to pursue a professional degree, such as law or medicine, or a divinity degree.
For many professions or for personal knowledge, however, formal education is not so necessary today due to the easier availability of free information on the Internet. Whereas in the past, one of the main benefits of going to college was to gain access to their superior libraries, today access to facts and books is available online. Financial analyst and author Peter Schiff, for one, says, "Never before in history has it been so easy to be self-educated".
Collegiate teaching was based on the classics (Latin, philosophy, ancient history, theology) until the early nineteenth century. There were few if any institutions of higher learning offering studies in engineering or science before 1800. Institutions such as the Royal Society did much to promote scientific learning, including public lectures. In England, there were also itinerant lecturers offering their service, typically for a fee.