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Learning how to learn

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Getting out of a school or college, you will probably instantly realize that the education provided is not enough. One of the most significant advantages of living in 2022 is that you have the option of self-teaching. Schools do not teach you how to learn. So you will have to do it yourself. Studying books will give you some knowledge, but you will not learn the skills and expertise they provide. You can read all the books about cooking, but that won't make you a chef. There are techniques to accelerate the pace at which you learn, and this is what I will talk about in this blog post.

Understand the value 🤔

Defining the motives behind what you are trying to learn is essential. It's crucial to understand the value of what you want to know; otherwise, there is no reason to learn it. It should be clear that knowing the X thing will give you the ability to do Y or move you one step closer to achieving a goal. Without this understanding, you will feel every learning action with frustration, lacking motivation and wasting energy.

This might seem obvious, but you must ask yourself, "Why do I want to learn this?" "Is this the right thing to learn?". Answering these questions might lead to different directions, and if not, then at least you know you are doing what you should be doing; either way, win-win.

Define scope & success ✅

Learning can be tricky because when you first start learning something, you don't really know what you don't or do know already. It's like opening a mystery box, where it could reveal familiar or completely unrecognised items. The first step of learning should be to determine the scope. What do you want to learn? Can you break it down into smaller parts? If you cannot answer these questions, then you should probably do a little research about the subject to answer them. Learning video editing could be a vast subject, so you might need to scope the work; otherwise you will lose control and feel less motivated every time.

What would be the success criteria that will define that you've successfully learnt this subject? The goal is to develop a clear and concise statement that will determine the success of your learning attempt.

❌ Bad success criteria

      • I can take good pictures with my camera

✅ Good success criteria

      • I can describe all my camera's features and when and why I should use each one.

Search for resources 🔎

Resources are a vital part of your learning. You need to search and decide where you are going to learn from. It's wise to focus on quantity first when searching for resources and then filter out those that you believe are low quality. Assuming you gathered some, you will also need to remove duplicates and pick the ones that seem the more helpful based on what you want to achieve, throwing out the useless resources.

Resource ideas:

  • books
  • projects
  • talks
  • blog posts
  • class course
  • online videos

Learning plan 🧭

Having a scope, success criteria and a bunch of resources, the next step is to start planning your learning journey. You will need to define what is the order you should learn each part. At this stage, you will need to identify how to get more efficiently from point A to point Z.

It would be best to consider that your plan should contain revisiting some content or playing around with a concept after you have studied it. These steps might need to be repeated in your learning journey. For example, suppose you want to learn a subtopic A. In that case, you might want to play around with A, create a project, do an exercise, or do something practical that will force your brain to apply what you've learned. Maybe after studying for subtopics A, B, and C, you want to do a recap of all those topics by writing your understanding.

Lacking a plan, there is a high possibility that you will not be learning unrelated stuff, wasting time and energy, or not even actually learning. You must treat your learning as a small project that needs to be delivered efficiently and effectively.

For example, let's say you want to learn more about photography. Your success criteria are I can describe all the features my camera has, and when and why I should use each one of them. An example plan for that learning path could be:

  1. Gather resources
  2. List all features in my camera
  3. Learn X feature
  4. Play around with X feature
  5. Learn Y feature
  6. Play around with X & Y feature
  7. Describe/Present to someone what you've learnt

It's rarely the case that your initial plan will be followed precisely because learning doesn't quite work like that. Sometimes, you will uncover important information that couldn't be imagined, which might force you to revisit previous resources. But don't be afraid of that. This is normal; going back and forth while learning is a common pathway. Having a plan thought will help you keep track of your objective.

Learn and play 🎮

This is one of the essential techniques when learning. It would help if you pushed your brain to practice what you've learnt in theory. As long as you haven't tried what you've learnt, you should assume that you don't know it yet. How I deal with knowledge is simple, have I tried/done it myself? If yes, then I probably know it, or I have some idea; if not, I don't know it. There are various ways to play around with knowledge; here are some examples.

  • do an exercise
  • run in simulation
  • do a project
  • write a blog
  • do a presentation

You will have to repeat that action a few times depending on the complexity and the quantity of the topic you are trying to learn. One way to do it is like the abovementioned example plan, where you can set small checkpoints where you think you could put into practice what you've learnt. After studying about X, I will try to apply it to a project. Having multiple checkpoints for playing around will increase your overall understanding and ease the difficulty of learning the topic.

Teach 👩‍🏫

Teaching is probably the most effective practice in learning new things. You cannot believe how much value teaching gives to your learning process.

If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself. ⎯ Einstein

Me, I am using teaching to learn a topic quite regularly. I do this through these blogs. Writing helps me organise my thoughts and express them in an understandable structured order. Teaching helps your brain connect pieces of information that were missing before and bridge some gaps of understanding. Occasionally it will also force you to revisit some content that will help strengthen your brain memory through repetition and association. I can't tell you how often I tried to explain things I studied but couldn't do it effectively. This was clearly a red flag, so I've embedded all these practices into my learning system. Teaching is an excellent tool for determining if you understand or not a concept. If you cannot teach it, then you don't know it, simple as that!

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I know a lot of people are scared to present or teach. I know it's not easy, especially if you haven't done it, but you shouldn't be afraid. You don't have to be an expert, trust me. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do what is best for you. If you want to learn a subject truly, then, unfortunately, there is no other way; you have to teach it!

Ways to teach

  • Give a presentation
  • Write a summary
  • Have a conversation with someone
  • Write a blog
  • Answer questions in the forum

Final thoughts 💭

It takes some discipline to educate yourself, but the rewards you'll gain are innumerable. If the steps don't work for you, please throw them away. If you feel the formality is not your type, feel free to make your own learning process. It's not the actual steps that matter but the concept behind it that truly matters. Next time you learn something, try to apply the steps. See how the process works for you, and then modify it if you like.

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