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December 2017
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TD Magazine
Word Wiz: Autodidact

Defined by Dictionary.com as "a self-taught person," autodidact is an important word for many talent development professionals. You may have several people who fit this description at your company (or maybe fit it yourself), so it's good to know about the tendencies of these individuals when creating learning plans for them.

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First, the strengths: Many autodidacts are creative and intelligent with a voracious appetite for knowledge. Want proof? Just consult your nearest history book. Many notable activists, inventors, intellectuals, and political leaders—such as Malcolm X, Abigail Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Edison—learned many of the skills they would need to change the world on their own.

However, an autodidactic approach to learning has weaknesses, too. Specifically, many autodidacts will focus their learning on a few narrow areas while leaving others neglected. Alexander Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow illustrates the point well when explaining his subject's attempt to enroll in college after a self-guided primary education: "Like all autodidacts, Hamilton had some glaring deficiencies to correct and required cram courses in Latin, Greek, and advanced math to qualify," he writes.

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About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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