In the 21st century, there is no longer some agreed upon body of knowledge you need to acquire to be considered "well-educated" or to meet some other standard. If you want to increase your knowledge base, the first step is for you to decide the general shape of the knowledge you want to acquire. No one can decide that for you.
Shape Your Knowledge Base
If you want expand your knowledge base to improve your employability and earnings potential, you can pursue a degree or certificate program. Often, some or all of the courses required for many programs can be taken online. If you're not especially interested in a degree, but just want to know more than you know now, there are many more ways to proceed. This also requires devoting more thought to your desired outcome. Consider whether you want to be broadly better educated or whether you want to learn more in a particular area, and if so, how deeply to you want to go. In the 21st century, the arts and sciences are vast areas of study. Becoming an expert in even a single area -- 20th century African literature or particle physics, for instance -- can take a lifetime.
Become Professionally Educated
If your goal is to achieve the goal of professional competence in a particular area, a good way to begin is to write down your goals, then write a summary of what you know now. For example, if your goal is to become a competent 20th century historian, write down what you've read so far, which may reveal that you know quite a bit about about, for instance, World War II, but little else. If so, the next step is to read important broad historical studies of the century, such as Eric. J. Hobsbawm's "The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991." Use Hobsbawm's bibliography to find more works in the field. Consider taking one or more free open courses, such as any of MIT's 70 history courses.
The Great Books Program
If you want to become broadly better educated, you face the problem of deciding which areas of knowledge are most important to acquire. One solution is St. John College's four-year "great books" program, built around seminal works of lasting importance in arts and science. In the freshman year, students read literature by Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. Greek and Latin writers are also studied in other areas: philosophy and theology, history and social science and mathematics and natural science. By a student's senior year, she will have worked her way forward to the 21st century, reading writers and scientists like Darwin, Virginia Woolf and Einstein. You can increase your knowledge on your own using the St. John's great books curriculum as a general model.
An Unstructured Approach
An inherent bias in articles on such general topics as how to increase your knowledge is an emphasis on organized solutions. Sometimes less organization produces better results. If you have, for example, a pronounced interest in World War II histories, you may find that you will enjoy the process and eventually learn more by forgetting about educational goals and just reading other books in the subject that appeal to you. At some point you may expand your interest. Make sure you set your goals broadly so they become an inspiration instead of a restriction.
- Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning: Awash in a Sea of Standards
- Penn University Archives and Records Center: The Academy: Curriculum and Organization
- St. John's College: The Undergraduate Program
- "The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, Eric. J. Hobsbawm
- MITOpenCourseware: History Courses
- The New York Times: Experts’ Advice to the Goal- Oriented: Don’t Overdo It
- Photo Credit TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images
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