How to Build Your Own Curriculum


When you're in high school and college, it is pretty easy to know what you're going to do next. Within a single class, you're given a syllabus with each and every assignment, reading, and text that you will have throughout the course (with some additional resources if you're lucky). Even in the bigger picture, both high school and college have some sort of "degree plan", making it easy to decide which classes to take, and in what order they need to be taken.

However, when you begin to learn on your own, you have to design your own curriculum, based on your own needs and wants. And that can be the most stressful part of the whole thing, because one class is great for a basic understanding of a single subject, but if you really want to give yourself a leg up for the future, you're going to need more than a single class (and usually more than a single subject). So, here are my tips for creating your own 'syllabus' and 'degree plan'.

  1. Do. Your. Research. I cannot possibly stress this enough. To really get the best experience and range of knowledge, your 'degree plan' should span a variety of platforms and subjects. Just because there is a course you want to take on edX doesn't mean that you shouldn't take a more advanced course on MIT OpenCourseWare later on. And it doesn't all have to be online! Feel free to look into textbooks used by college courses in your chosen subjects.
  2. Make a list of courses or resources that you need to get through. Don't worry about the order of this list for now. Don't worry about the size of the list either. Your curriculum can take you 6 months, or it can take you 6 years. It's completely up to you, and the mastery level you want to achieve.
  3. Organize that list into a reasonable order. Put the easier, overview-style classes first, and then start adding in the textbooks and advanced classes in an order that makes sense to you (it doesn't have to make sense to anyone else).
  4. Write down a reasonable schedule for you to get through. Some of your courses or resources make that easy, like the deadlines set out on sites like Coursera and edX, but others you will have to make up yourself, like with textbooks or sites like Codecademy, that are self-paced. While you're doing this, you can notate which courses, if any, are only available at certain times of the year, and schedule around that.
  5. Follow your schedule. The schedule is there to keep you motivated and accountable, so you always know where you're going. BUT - like I said in my previous post - don't be afraid to step back and reevaluate your schedule, or even your entire curriculum. I often have the trouble that 'my eyes are bigger than my stomach' as far as time commitment goes, and I count myself in for way more than I can actually handle. Or maybe you've realized as you're going through your curriculum that you're interested in taking the subject in a different direction than you planned for. You don't have to finish the curriculum that you made! You can make a new one! All you perfectionists and completionists out there, I feel you, I understand, but it's really okay. There's no registrar or school counselor that will judge you for changing a curriculum that you made for yourself in the first place.

Five steps. It seems so simple now, doesn't it? The whole process can be done in a single afternoon. There are only really two tough parts: the first is the research. But if you're new to online learning, and you don't know where to start, check out my Learning Resources board on Pinterest! I've been collecting resources on all subjects for years, and I pinned them all to that board just for you! The second tough part is sticking with your syllabus and whittling away at that 10,000 hours toward mastery, and that's all up to you. But whenever you feel like maybe you'll never understand the subject, or you just feel like procrastinating, remind yourself of whatever reason you have for doing this in the first place.

Also, if you're feeling really lost and you just want my help with pointing you towards some great resources, feel free to email me! I'm here to help.