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Self-Motivated Learning & The Future of Education

Everything constructive is "knowable". What do you want to know and why? How will you apply that knowledge to benefit everyone?

Education is no longer connected to academic institutions or industries. A vast amount of high quality learning material is freely available over the Internet for just about any subject. But how do we put it all together when we lack personal experience and it seems as if there are no teachers around to help guide us through that process? Our learning must become self-motivated!


Defining the Field
Amassing Learning Material
Refining Your Personal Curriculum
Community Connections & Communication
Conclusion: A Beautiful Vision For The Future

Defining the Field

First, we must put what we desire to know into the context of what is already known. We don't want to "reinvent the wheel" if we don't have to! Is there some sort of field that encapsulates the same kinds of topics that we are interested in? If not, seek out one that seems "close enough" and look at any others that might be related to it. We could hit upon an "interdisciplinary" field (i.e.: a mix of more than one subject) that is more suited to our needs.

For example, say that I want to learn more about automation so that I can further develop some ideas that I already have. I will most likely have to learn something about computer programming in order to control the devices that make it up, but the field of "Computer Science" is not broad enough in scope. I need something that also covers the Physics and Electronics that I will need to build the robots guided by those computers.

As I continue to research, I eventually come across the field of "Mechatronics" (a mix of the words "mechanical" and "electronics"). This seems like a good fit! One probably would have been studying this in college if they are now working with "Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition" (SCADA) systems. As its name suggests, a "SCADA system" is made up of all of the parts that oversee and direct an automated process, like the robots within the assembly line of a factory.

In this context, the computers involved are usually referred to as "Programmable Logic Controllers" (PLCs). PLCs control machines by triggering some sort of movement within them through devices called "Actuators". These movements are based upon the information that they receive from another set of devices called "Sensors". To use a very simple analogy: The PLC is like the brain, the Sensors are like the sense organs (such as the eyes and ears), while the Actuators are like the muscles moving in response to that information.

It is okay if none of this makes sense. We just want to point out one thing: It is important to form a general outline of what we will be learning based on a clear personal reason as to why we need to know it. This is what makes learning "self-motivated". Only you can decide what your purpose is and choose to take consistent actions towards its fulfillment. To continue our example...

The Wikipedia page for Mechatronics gives this wonderful explanatory diagram:

Photo Credit: Ahm2307

The overlapping inner circles describe some aspects of this field, while the black outer ring gives some industries in which they are used.

Based upon our personal needs and what we have learned here, we will approach it in a slightly different manner:

Instead of placing specific technologies within each circle, we have placed the fields that can help us to understand the principles which underlie them. This will allow us to build those types of technologies! Can you represent what you want to know as a diagram of some kind? It doesn't have to be very detailed. For example, I could only draw the above diagram after some research into what each of those fields is concerned with. Try to add to it as you learn more, connecting new information to what is familiar and rearranging it as necessary.

Amassing Learning Material

Now that we have a general outline, we can use it as a point of reference when collecting learning material to gain an even deeper understanding. It is like a skeleton to which we are adding flesh.

A helpful place to start are the websites of schools that already teach those subjects. For example, many colleges provide lists of classes that one would take if that subject was their "concentration" or "major" (i.e.: the topic that they would "specialize" in). One could also seek out people already involved in that field and ask them what they studied, the references that they rely upon, the tools that they use regularly, the situations that one is likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis, etc. As another example, YouTube is filled with videos of people talking about these types of things! We will demonstrate how we gather more resources [please feel free to skip to the next section if it is not relevant to you]...

Let's target each of the circles in the last diagram of the previous section, starting with Mechanical Engineering. Tamer Shaheen gives a beautiful summary in his video "How I Would Learn Engineering (If I Could Start Over)". He divides the information into two broad categories: the Material to be learned and a Job Hunting Strategy. For now, we will focus in on the former and ignore the latter. He further sub-divides Material into the Theoretical and the Practical. Here are a couple of tables that outline what those topics are, and that provide a few helpful resources for learning more about each of them:

Topic General Use / Meaning Important Foundations Example Resources
Mechanics of Deformable Solids (MODS) Describes the bending of beams The Flexure Formula
The Cantilever Beam Equation
PARISlab@UCLA - Mechanics of Deformable Solids Course
Materials Science Describes the properties of different materials The Stress-Strain Curve Videos:
Taylor Sparks - Materials Science 101
Edupedia World - AMIE Exam Lectures: Materials Science & Engineering
Mega Mechatronics - Materials 101

• US DoE - Materials Science Fundamentals Handbook [Volume 1 & Volume 2]
Manufacturing Methods Describes the different processes used to manufacture items Common Processes:
Injection Molding
Sheet Metal Forming

Design For Manufacturing (DFM)
MIT OpenCourseware - Control of Manufacturing Processes [Website]

LamNgeun Virasak - Manufacturing Processes 4-5
Heat Transfer Describes how heat moves through a system Main "Modes" of Heat Transfer:
John Biddle - Heat Transfer Lecture Series (2020)
Kody Powell - Virtual Heat Transfer Course Lectures (2020)
Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) Describes the standards used when creating blueprints • The fourteen GD&T Symbols Videos:
The Efficient Engineer - Understanding Engineering Drawings

US Navy - Blueprint Reading and Sketching
Ric Costin - Basic Blueprint Reading
Cameren Moran - Interpretation of Metal Fab Drawings
Analysis of Failure Describes how to predict and prevent failures Design Failure Modes & Effects Analysis (DFMEA)
Fishbone Diagrams, The Five Whys, etc.
Mike Clayton - What is Failure Mode and Effects Analysis: FMEA?
D.K. Dwivedi - Failure Analysis and Prevention

Topic General Use / Meaning Important Foundations Example Resources
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Creating blueprints or models on the computer • Pick a software (e.g.: FreeCAD) and master basic operations (e.g: extrude, cut, revolve, etc.) Videos:
Invent Box Tutorials - Learn FreeCAD
FreeCAD Academy - FreeCAD 0.19 BASIC COURSE
MangoJelly Solutions - FreeCAD 0.20 For Beginners
Rapid Prototyping Quickly making a physical version for testing purposes Laser Cutting

Common types of 3D Printing:
Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) / Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Stereolithography (SLA)

• Differences between Additive and Subtractive processes
Hubs Knowledge Base - 3D Printing
3D Now - The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to 3D Printing
Maker's Muse - Safety Tips for FDM/FFF 3D Printers
Using A Breadboard, Microcontroller, etc. Testing an electrical circuit before making a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) where the parts cannot be as easily removed or rearranged • Get a Microcontroller of some kind (like an Arduino) and learn how to use it. If a kit is too expensive, simulate it. Videos:
Programming Electronics Academy - Arduino MASTERCLASS
Paul McWhorter - Arduino Course
Hand & Shop Tools Understanding what the tools of a machine shop are and how to use them properly Measuring Tools (e.g.: Tape Measures, Levels, Callipers, etc.)
Manipulation Tools (e.g.: Hammers, Screwdrivers, etc.)
Stabilization Tools (e.g.: Vices)
Division Tools (e.g.: Drills, Saws, Files, etc.)
• Drill Presses, Belt Sanders, Lathes, etc.
US Navy - Tools & Their Uses
Clifford Rutherford - Building Maintenance & Construction: Tools and Maintenance Tasks
Reader's Digest - 101 Do-It-Yourself Projects

Tamer also has an interesting video on the mathematics involved in engineering entitled, "How Much Math is REALLY in Engineering?". There are several branches of mathematics (like Calculus) that everyone will probably go through, no matter what they specialize in. He talks about them as classes that one is likely to take in college:

Classes Examples of Topics Covered
Calculus I Limits
Calculus II Integration
Series and Sequences
Calculus III Multivariable Functions
Partial Derivatives
Linear Algebra Vectors
Complex Numbers
Differential Equations

This might sound like a lot of math, but the division of Calculus into three parts is somewhat arbitrary and only serves to make it easier to digest. Likewise, Differential Equations are a part of Calculus. In general, Calculus describes how things change over time, so it is used all throughout science and engineering.

More math is added based upon what one needs to describe and how. Tamer gives the following examples of other classes or topics that might show up:

Partial Differential Equations
Fourier Analysis
Laplace Transforms
Complex Analysis
Numerical Methods
Discrete Math
Boolean Algebra & Digital Logic
Financial Management

Please do not be intimidated by the "fancy" sounding names. We can break them down to get a clearer understanding of what they mean. For example, both "Fourier" and "Laplace" are the names of French mathematicians, and those classes are based on a few of the ideas that they came up with.

Even if some of the processes within these subjects seem complex, simple principles underlie all of them. Always seek out an understanding of what those are first! Try to answer the question, "Why are we learning this?" As another example, Statistics collects data about things, like the "stats" of your favorite sports player (e.g.: How many goals did they score in this season?). We usually look for patterns within this data to make predictions about it (e.g.: What is the likelihood that a trend will continue?). This is what Probability is! You might notice that Statistics and Probability are usually taught together for this reason.

The cool thing about learning mathematics in the context of science and engineering is that it is easy to find a lot of examples that describe situations which can be observed or visualized in some way. Remember, mathematics is a descriptive language. It helps one to generalize, finding multiple circumstances in which the same patterns appear ("Abstraction"). It also gives step-by-step procedures for checking our results ("Proofs"). We want results that are repeatable, so we need logic that is consistent.

Computers can also help us to do mathematics. Engineers use software like MATLAB, ANSYS, COMSOL, etc. [or their free equivalents like GNU Octave, FEniCS, Elmer, SageMath, etc.] to find patterns by organizing data into charts or graphs, make more reliable predictions by creating more accurate simulations, and so on. It is fairly easy to find resources that cover the necessary foundations (e.g.: MIT's Computational Science and Engineering I course, and its sequel, Mathematical Methods for Engineers II).

All materials will differ in how they are presented, whether that means a different format (e.g.: a video or a book) or a different style (e.g.: entertaining or serious). It is useful to get many different views of the same subjects. Just try to keep everything that you are collecting well-organized in order to make it easy to come back to it again. Let's keep looking...

Like Tamer, there are many YouTube videos that give overviews and summaries of this topic (e.g.: Wissam Seif's "Most Important Mechanical Engineering Skills To Learn", Domain of Science's "The Map of Engineering", etc.). Zach Star's "What is Mechanical Engineering?" covers similar ground in that he talks about the various types of courses that one is likely to take. Here are a couple of more tables that summarize some of what he covers and a few helpful resources for learning more:

Classes Example Resources
1 year of Physics Videos:
Walter Lewin Lectures

Greg Goebel - Introduction To Classical Mechanics
Benjamin Crowell's Introductory Textbooks
2 years of Math, mostly Calculus Videos:
UMKC - Calculus I with Professor Richard Delaware
Bill Shillito - MAT 131 Calculus I
Eddie Woo Mathematics Playlists

W.W. Sawyer - What Is Calculus About?
Jiří Lebl - Notes on Diffy Qs: Differential Equations for Engineers
Welding Videos:
Arc Academy - Welding Basics

The Crucible - Welding 101
Welding Mania - Things to Know as a Beginner Welder
Welding Headquarters - Welding For Beginners
Programming (especially MATLAB) Videos:
W.D. Flannery - Computational Calculus, the Math that Matters for Physics and Engineering
Mathematical Modeling and Computational Calculus I
Mathematical Modeling and Computational Calculus II

Body & Soul Mathematics Education Reform Project
Serhat Beyenir - A Brief Introduction to Engineering Computation with MATLAB

Topic Definition Example Resources
Statics Physics of systems that aren't moving (e.g.: forces on the truss of a building) Videos:
Mohammad Izadi - Vector Statics Lecture Series

Engineering Mechanics - Statics
Dynamics Physics of systems that are moving (e.g.: projectile motion) Videos:
Scott Reckinger - Engineering Mechanics-Dynamics
MIT OpenCourseware - Engineering Dynamics [Website]
Fluid Mechanics Properties and mechanics of fluids (e.g.: air and water) Videos:
John Biddle - Fluid Mechanics I Lecture Series

Genick Bar-Meir - Basics of Fluid Mechanics
Genick Bar-Meir - Basics of Compressible Fluid Mechanics
James Liburdy - Intermediate Fluid Mechanics
Thermodynamics Relations between heat and other forms of energy Books:
Greg Goebel - Introduction To Thermophysics
Claire Yu Yan - Introduction to Engineering Thermodynamics
Vibrations Analyzing the mechanical oscillations that occur in different objects Videos:
The Efficient Engineer - Understanding Vibration and Resonance
Mohammad Noori - Mechanical Vibrations
Jurnan Schilder - Mechanical Vibrations
Good Vibrations with Freeball - Introduction to Mechanical Vibrations
Design Using the strength and durability of different materials, mechanisms, and structures Videos:
Tamer Shaheen - How Engineers Build Products from Scratch

This seems like more than enough to get started within Mechanical Engineering. Now, we will move on to the next circle, Electrical Engineering. Zach Star has another informative video entitled "What Is Electrical Engineering?". First, he gives a gloss of the different sub-fields that one could study within the field of Electrical Engineering. Here is a simple mind map that gives an idea of it:

He then goes on to describe the typical curriculum and the things one would learn within each class:

Classes Examples of Topics Covered
Circuit Analysis I, II, and III • Learning how to find the Voltage and Current within circuits containing Resistors, Capacitors, and Inductors
• Uses a lot of Systems of Equations with Variables for Voltage (V) and Current (I)
• In the first level, circuits use Resistors and a Voltage source that is constant, Direct Current (DC)
• In the second level, circuits use Capacitors and Inductors whose Voltage and Current change exponentially
• In the third level, Alternating Current (AC) is described with Complex Numbers ["Phasors"]
Signals • Learning how to use the Fourier Series and Fourier Transform to derive different types of waveshapes (e.g.: Triangle, Square, etc.) by combining Sine or Cosine waves
Intro To Communications • Learning the difference between Amplitude Modulation (AM) and Frequency Modulation (FM) of a signal
Electromagnetism I and II • Learning the Physics behind how Electric and Magnetic Fields are formed, and how they propagate together as Electromagnetic Waves
• How Electromagnetic Waves interact with different materials
Intro To Electronics • Learning about Semiconductors, like Transistors
Digital Electronics • Learning about using Transistors for making circuits that can quickly switch between high and low Voltages
Analog Electronics • Learning about using Transistors to amplify a Voltage
Digital Design • Learning about Logic Gates
Power • Analyzing Electric Motors and Generators
• Learning how Power is dissipated
Controls • Learning about systems with Feedback
• Learning how to reach a target output signal
Continuous Time Signals • Learning about how to process Analog Signals
Discrete Time Signals • Learning about how to process Digital Signals
Microprocessors • Learning about how the Integrated Circuits that make up a "computer" are formed out of Logic Gates

Some of the resource lists (such as How Stuff Works, Books from MIR, Technical Courses from NPTEL, etc.) have material for learning all of the above topics. We would like to highlight one link that could be particularly helpful in creating a good foundation for further learning in Mechatronics though, Dissidents: Engineering & Programming Texts & Videos. Once we are comfortable with the basics, we can learn from Phil's Lab how to use free software like KiCad to design our own PCBs, and how to quickly prototype the circuits that we've designed with techniques from Leo's Bag of Tricks.

A lot of learning materials related to the final circle, Computer Science, have already been shared within a previous link. This leads us to an important point: Sometimes we have to go back to get more information. Everything has something useful to teach, so try to learn as much as you can from everything!

As the amount of material you gather increases, you might notice something...

It may be easier to find general resources (e.g.: CrashCourse, Engineering Funda, Magic Marks, etc.), whereas more specific webpages may be harder to find. For example, there are several places to legally get free textbooks (e.g.: LibreTexts, Open Textbook Library, OpenStax, etc.), and sometimes Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are given away for free from places like edX and Udacity. However, the options may be limited, especially as the subjects become more obscure. A good metasearch engine (i.e.: one that compiles results from multiple search engines simultaneously) is useful for digging deep.

Refining Your Personal Curriculum

After awhile, it might seem overwhelming to have so much learning material compiled. Instead, take comfort in the fact that you have a lot of things to draw upon. Reference them against one another should you get stuck on any one of them. Again, just try to keep it all organized as best as you can. Notice that I have used several tables and diagrams within this article to condense a lot of information and links. Find ways of giving all of it structure.

Once you are ready to study, pick a couple of resources that stand out to you the most. Start to carefully go through them using whatever learning techniques are most effective for you. Looking at an example of how others study that same subject can be helpful. Some courses even tell you how best to study them. For example, the University of Detroit Mercy gives an interesting diagram which lays out the structure of their Electrical Engineering course:

Figure X: Electrical Engineering Spiral Curriculum

They give the following description of it:
Figure X represents the spiral structure of the curriculum, showing how traditionally disparate topical areas are treated in an integrated fashion in the two fundamentals courses (Fund I and Fund II). After Fund I, the students begin to experience tight integration across courses. For example, shared projects across Fund II, Signals and Systems, and Digital Logic have been a consistent feature in the four years since the curriculum was launched. Signals and Systems introduces concepts related to control and communications systems which are later reinforced in two separate courses. The Advanced Electronic Systems course continues the integration with shared projects with the Microprocessors course. All of this prepares students to think of EE design as a systems integration problem rather than simply a collection of unrelated component designs that are never put together in a larger context.
In short, they repeatedly cycle through several topics, showing the interconnections between all of them as each topic is developed further. Then, all of this information is applied to some type of project. In this case, the project is related to robotics. Many colleges have "open courseware" on robotics (e.g.: MIT, Stanford, etc.). We need to find some projects that inspire us so that we have something tangible to work towards. Personally, I am inspired by these two projects on robotic arms:

稚晖君 - I made a DUMMY ROBOTIC ARM from scratch
Jeremy Fielding - Industrial Robot From Scratch

When seeing the final result of a complex process, it can be challenging to understand how to get there. Sometimes layers upon layers of simplifications are piled on top of one another. A good example of this is given by Anant Agarwal in Circuits and Electronics. He makes a chart that looks something like this:

It is okay if none of the labels on this chart make sense. Basically, every red arrow is an abstraction. It is showing that, through a process of repeatedly simplifying, we can go from observations and measurements directly from Nature on the left, all the way to making computer systems on the right. Understanding the relationships between seemingly separate bits of information allows one to build some very complex things!

Community Connections & Communication

Our studies can be supplemented by face-to-face dialogues, and the constructive projects that we are working on can be shared with those around us for everyone's benefit. What are some ways that we can meet people with similar interests (e.g.: through online forums, events at our local library, etc.)? If they don't exist yet, how could we start them?

Being a part of a community also requires sharing information. Effective communication is understanding the meaning of what is received and clearly conveying to others one's intentions. In this example, the communication process might include some technical writing as well. In the book Technical Writing Process by Kieran Morgan, he defines a "technical document" as, quote:
A document [...] which assists someone to carry out a process or procedure, or use a product. Examples of technical documents include user guides, procedures, manuals, and quick reference guides.
The process of making a technical document has five stages:

1. Plan
2. Structure
3. Write
4. Review
5. Publish

He then elaborates on each of these points, showing the activities which make them up and the tools that one uses to get them done. Here is a summary table:

Steps 1. Plan 2. Structure 3. Write 4. Review 5. Publish
Activities • Define scope, stakeholders, and process
• Select techniques and tools
• Review Documentation Plan with stakeholders
• Schedule project
• Check for templates or style guides
• Gather information
• Track progress
• Create table of contents (if required)
• Review table of contents with subject matter experts / stakeholders
• Write first draft
• Review draft with subject matter experts
• Review and revise draft to final stage
• Format / lay out draft
• Edit and check draft
• Define review team
• Conduct stakeholder review
• Collate feedback and revise draft
• Obtain approval to publish
• Finalise document (formatting, proofreading, etc.)
• Establish document control
• Publish final draft
• Communicate with stakeholders
Tools / Outputs • Technical Writing Process
• Documentation Plan
• Documentation Timeline / Schedule
• Deliverables Matrix / Worksheet*
• Status Tracker*
• Table of Contents • Drafts (First, Interim, Final) • Editing Checklist
• Editing Sheet
• Review Matrix
• Message to Review Team
• Review Log
• Approved Draft
• Controlled Document
• Message to Stakeholders
*For projects with multiple deliverables

You might be wondering what some of these jargon terms mean...

• A "Documentation Plan" is just a paper that "defines the scope of your project (the documents you're going to write, who the intended audience is, etc.) and the process you'll follow to execute the project."

• A "Documentation Timeline and Schedule" is a paper that shows the order in which all of the documents have to be written and when they are needed (assuming the project is on a timeline). It functions like a checklist of tasks that must be done. A "Deliverable" is what is produced as a result.

• A "Deliverables Matrix" is a paper that "lists every document to be written and their key attributes". It outlines everything needed within each document.

• A "Status Tracker" is some way of monitoring the progress of each document as it is created. It syncs up the Deliverables Matrix with the Documentation Timeline and Schedule.

• An "Editing Checklist" is a list of all of the things that must be checked when editing a document. This is more than just errors in spelling or layout. It can potentially include many things (e.g.: Will it serve the audience well?, Is it factual?, Is it logical?, Is it easy to read?, Are all of the references there?, etc.).

• A "Review Matrix" is "a simple table which sets out the names [...] of the reviewers and the sections of the document or the topics you want each of them to concentrate on in their review."

We won't always need to get this in-depth, but as the projects become more complex, these types of records become invaluable.

Conclusion: A Beautiful Vision For The Future

Notice that none of this requires "money". People do not need to go into "debt" to learn anything, and they do not need a "job" to apply their skills towards sustainably creating what is imperative for our survival (e.g.: food, clothes, and shelter). Once stability is attained for all, then we can creatively explore together!

Ultimately, all of this is tied to voluntarily building and collaborating. Every system that still operates as a hierarchical structure is shifting into a cooperative one based upon mutual aid. The concepts of both "government" and "business" are gradually being phased out as "borders" become nebulous from the steadily increasing interchange of information and sharing of natural resources. Ever more done with ever less.

Despite what the "news" may have one think, we are not regressing back towards "nationalistic" attitudes for the sake of another "world war", but growing into real peace-making without the taint of selfishness. Abundance means no more fear of lack.

The world needs you to be free to implement your most constructive dreams. Hopefully, this article makes it clear that they are within your grasp no matter how little it seems is available to you.

Thank you for reading! ❤️