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School, Self-Teaching and ADHD

One of the most interesting things about the time we live in is that “disruptive” technologies are changing the way we live so many parts of our lives, from Amazon changing how we shop for books to Uber changing the way we hail cabs.

Interestingly, the education system has been slower to adapt than a lot of other sectors of society. Lectures, homework assignments, exams and letter grades are still the bread and butter of school.

It’s not clear how long this state of affairs can last though. The education system is practically begging for some kind of radical, technology-driven change. As information becomes more widely accessible through tools like Wikipedia, ebooks and freely available online courses like MIT OpenCourseWare, the idea that learning is something that happens in hallowed lecture halls is looking more and more old-fashioned.

Lecture HallWhen information was harder to come by and the internet wasn’t the go-to resource it is now, it’s easy to see why learning took place in a “teacher-centric” way: you go to class, take notes while your teacher imparts knowledge to you, study those notes, then repeat the process again the next day.

Now, it’s just as easy to stay home and look up that knowledge online. In fact, having a lecturer as the middleman seems kind of inefficient.

So you can start to see the possibility of a student-centric learning process where the student pulls together information from difference resources, maybe with the consultation of a teacher, but without the need for lectures and the traditional teacher-centric learning ritual.

An advantage of the student-centric, decentralized model is the flexibility. There are only so many ways you can listen to a lecture. But when you’re acting as your own teacher, you can gravitate to the learning style that works for you.

You can see the appeal of this model for people with ADHD. In fact, this was basically my formula for getting through college: be my own teacher since I can’t really focus on lectures anyway.

We often recognize that people with ADHD tend to have a lot of different interests. Part of what fuels this tendency is that people with ADHD are often autodidacts.

It’s not that people with ADHD are better at teaching themselves things than people without the disorder. It’s that they’re not worse. In other words, yeah, you might be better at listening to a lecture than me, but self-teaching is an equalizer: if we both have to teach ourselves something, we’re on an even playing field of having to organize things in terms of our own learning style.

This isn’t just true of ADHD, by the way. More student-centric learning is good for anyone who doesn’t learn the “normal” way. For example, self-teaching allows people with dyslexia to learn from the materials that work best for them.

So I’m looking forward to seeing traditional classroom learning “disrupted.” Not because I have a stake in it now that I’ve graduated college, but because the technological capability is there for an education system that allows people to learn in the way that’s most efficient for them, and I think it’ll be better for everyone when that starts happening.

Image: Flickr/Sean MacEntee under CC BY 2.0

School, Self-Teaching and ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). School, Self-Teaching and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 27 Nov 2016
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