There is probably no other American as revered as Benjamin Franklin. He was an inventor, scientist, statesmen, polymath and one of the founding fathers of the United States.

His collected work and more importantly, his example, was foundational in defining the early American ethos as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism in its political and religious forms.

What’s most amazing about Benjamin Franklin was he was an almost entirely self-taught autodidact (not familiar with term? Learn about autodidactism). His influence remains strong as millions of people still read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin each year and he influences your life every time you vote, flick on a light or visit a library.

Franklin’s accomplishments were almost entirely as a result of his own desire to learn. And he followed the autodidact path in a day and age when books were rare and expensive, and knowledge a rare and valuable commodity.

21st Century Autodidacts

As we move further into the 21st century, I believe the idea of self-education and autodidactism is going to continue to broaden and expand, making the lifelong learner the most valuable person in the new workplace and entrepreneurial economy.

That’s not to say that formal education is going to go away. There will always be a need for excellent universities and inspiring teachers. But the person who takes it upon himself to learn and explore topics—to broaden their own horizons—will always enjoy an edge, whether it be in business or as a citizen.

And what an amazing time for the highly curious who desire self-education! Never before has so much knowledge been so readily available.

What would Benjamin Franklin have thought of GoogleWikipedia or TED Talks? It’s said that the sum of all human knowledge—everything we know about everything—is doubling every 18 months.

New discoveries in science, technology and astronomy are happening almost every minute of every day. The most remarkable thing is that these discoveries are almost instantaneously available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Even more amazing are all of the systems, tools and resources that are popping up everywhere that offers people the chance to learn about any topic they desire.

Want to learn how to design a web page? There are lots of free resources to learn HTML and CSS coding online. Struggling with math, science or physics? The Khan Academy offers anyone the change to learn or (re-learn) anything from basic addition to advanced Calculus through a library of over 3,400 video based lessons, again for free.

Beyond cost lies the fact that so many people learn differently. Some are auditory learners, others visual or kinaesthetic. One student might thrive in a classroom where the teacher lecturing while another slowly slips further and further behind.

With all of these new interactive learning systems comes the potential of true differentiated learning. Now more than ever, anyone can learn anything in a style that is tailored to their specific learning style.

This means that the person who struggled in school–the person with ADHD, for example, or simply anyone who hated sitting sedentary in a classroom all day when they wanted to be exploring the real world outside—now has access to the knowledge they want or need anywhere they are.

And what’s most amazing is that no one really knows where this will lead us. It has only been within the last one hundred and fifty years that any type of education, even rudimentary learning, was available to anyone but the most privileged.

Today, a villager in Africa can take classes at MITStanford or Princeton. What types of new discoveries are going to be made? And more importantly what kinds of people will we see taking up the challenge to better themselves and the rest of the human race through education.

Autodidact Nation?

While the American education system continues to decline into job training and standardized groupthink, I believe we are seeing the rise of a new generation of autodidacts who are educated using the Internet.

What we need to cultivate today is an Autodidact Nation and go back to the roots of America when people were highly curious, self-reliant and hungry to learn. During the American Revolution, ordinary Americans enthusiastic read the work of renegade thinkers like Thomas Paine, but today few American even know of his influence on the nation.

One thing is for certain, never again will lack of education be an excuse for anyone on Planet Earth to learn what they need to learn to survive, learn a trade or get ahead in life.

Right this second there lies at your fingertips the entire Library of Congress, the writings of every great thinker and the combined knowledge of 2,000 years of civilization.

All that’s required is a thirst to learn and some burning questions that needs to be answered.

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