Category Archives: learning

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Planning my learning; It’s okay to learn in a spiral

I’ve been coming to terms with the quirks of my learning preferences. =) I think I should be better at focusing, but really, I’m all over the map, so I should just learn how to make the most of the fact that I learn bits and pieces and then move on. It turns out that’s okay. In fact, people design curricula that way.

Learning in spirals

2014-01-03 Learning in spirals

I’m not the only geek who learns like this. It’s a pretty common pattern, apparently. Here are Sadique Ali’s thoughts on going through the spiral of learning. =) Good to see how other people deal with it! See HackerNews for interesting comments.

So what are the different areas I’m currently learning about? I started by listing the categories that came to mind. Then I wrote down what I was already comfortable with (celebrate your successes and starting point!). I wrote down the next things I wanted to explore. Then I picked ONE of those things and filled in more details for my current focus (or at least, what I’m likely to focus on the next time I come back to the topic).

2014-01-03 What are my current learning areas

This is great. It gives me “next actions” to focus on when I feel the urge to explore a particular category. Leaving myself a note about what’s next makes it easier for me to hit the ground running instead of spending time trying to figure out what to do. I can still change it, of course, but at least I have a reasonable default.

I have the freedom to follow my interests. I also nudge myself to explore specific topics further, because sometimes all you need is to sit down and start, and then you’re motivated to continue. The themes I’ve picked for each day influence me a lot. I don’t set aside each day exclusively for one topic, but I notice where the holes are when I haven’t thought about something in a while. My blog post calendar makes those holes visible, and that encourages me to pick either something I’m comfortable explaining or a question I’m curious about exploring.

What’s a good way for me to keep this table convenient and up to date? Hmm… Adding it to my mindmap or outline, maybe? That way, I can stash resources related to future topics. An Org Mode outline might be easiest to manage as it grows in size, since I can track status and export my notes. Here it is: http://sach.ac/my-learning

Do you learn in a spiral too? How do you make the most of it?

Learning from online role models

Have you identified any role models for the skills you want to learn or improve?

When people tell me they want to learn more about something, I often ask them who they look up to as role models for the skills they want to build. It really helps to have a clear picture of what success looks like, and then you can play “spot the difference” to figure out specific techniques or steps for improvement. You might not want to do everything that your role models do or suggest, but studying them can show you options and ideas you might otherwise have missed.

I get a lot of value even through learning from role models from a distance. Since there are so many ways to learn, I generally don’t want to ask for people’s attention, so I rarely reach out. Instead, I try to build things up so that people talk to me. =) Other people get a kick out of getting e-mails, tweets, or comments from famous people. If you’re one of those — or if you want to ask your role model for more specific advice — here are some tips for building that connection!

2013-11-22 Learn from online role models

(Also, it really does help if you tell people what you’re learning from them or trying to learn from them! =) Sometimes people don’t know what they know until someone asks.)

Read more effectively by asking yourself questions while you read

It’s easy to look at a book instead of reading it. I’ve been there too: reading a textbook chapter without retaining enough information for an exam, reading self-improvement books without slowing down enough to think critically about the advice and plan how I’m going to use it. Fortunately, I remembered one of the acronyms that I picked up in those grade school lessons on how to read better. SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.

2013-11-11 How to think about a book while reading it

 

Step 1: Survey. No, this doesn’t mean ask other people what they think of the book. Here, “survey” is like what a surveyor does to land – get an overview by looking at the structure. Look at the table of contents for a book, look at the headings, look at the first lines of paragraphs. This will give you a quick idea of what the section you’re reading will cover.

Step 2: Question. Before you dig into the book, think about the kinds of questions you should be able to answer after reading. If you’re preparing for an exam, think about the questions that would likely be there. If you’re reading for your own learning, think about your goals and how the book can help you. Write those questions down. Index cards are handy for review, because you can jumble them up and test yourself.

Step 3: Read. Now you read in more detail. As you read, write more questions. Write hints to help you answer them during your review, and make sure those hints are easy to hide or refer to when you’re reviewing. The backs of index cards work well, or you can use the Cornell method when taking notes.

Step 4: Recite. Answer your questions without referring to the text. You can answer the questions out loud or you can write the answers down for exam practice.

Step 5: Review. If you weren’t able to answer all of your questions confidently and correctly, go back and review the sections that need more work. Schedule some time the next day and in future review sessions to go over the questions again, without referring to your hints or to the text unless you need the reminder.

SQ3R - reading with questions in mind will help you get the most out of what you read. Good luck!

You might also like my notes on How to Read a Book (Adler and van Doren), my book workflow, and how I read books and do visual book reviews. Want to ask questions or share tips about learning? Comment below or check out http://sach.ac/learn for more resources.

Check out these getting started guides – suggest more!

I’ve been making little one-page guides to help people learn about topics. It turns out they’re fun to make. =) Click on the images for larger versions. Feel free to print out/share!

How can you get started with visual note-taking?

2013-11-14-How-can-you-get-started-with-visual-note-taking.jpg

Getting started with mind-mapping

2013-11-14 Getting started with mind-mapping

Getting started with bulk cooking

2013-11-12 Get started with bulk cooking

Getting started with Ledger

2013-11-12 Get started with Ledger

There’s this one about Emacs too, of course. =)

What else should I write/draw from a beginner’s point of view?  Comment and suggest!

Want to give it a try? Think about something you’ve learned, and draw a one-page beginner’s guide for it. (I’d love to see it!)

Make the most of a day of lectures

Intense learning can be exhausting. Here are some tips to manage your energy and make the most of a long day of lectures. Click on the images for larger versions!

Energy is the first part of the equation. If you’re not alert, you’ll have a harder time understanding and remembering important topics.

2013-11-08 Manage your energy when learning a lot in one day

Full disclaimer: In university, I fell asleep in many of my classes because I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of these things. (Also, I had to sign up for a 7:30 AM class once. The topic was fun, dragging myself out of bed wasn’t.) Learn from my experience and manage your energy well. =)

Okay, now that you’re in the lecture, how can you deal with common challenges? Here are some ideas.

2013-11-06 Make the most of lecture classes

Review is where learning really happens. That’s when you fill in any gaps and connect what you’ve learned to what you need to remember and what you’ve learned before.

2013-11-08 Structure your notes for easy review

Hope these tips help!

Think about your delta: increasing the difference you want to make

What kind of difference do you want to make? How can you make an even bigger difference?

I can’t remember where I picked up this idea—a book? a podcast?—but lately I’ve been thinking about my delta (D or d). In math and science, delta represents change. What kind of difference do I want to make in this world? Then I started thinking about calculus and derivatives, because that’s what delta reminds me of. How could I increase my rate of change? How could I accelerate? And then another order of derivatives: how can I increase the rate at which I increase my rate of change?

Here’s what I understand so far. I care about learning and sharing. I want to affect the way that people learn. I want to help them (I want to help you!) learn more effectively, be inspired, get encouraged to share, and have fun along the way. I’m doing just fine now, but there are many things I can learn or try that could help me make a bigger difference later on.

2013-11-09 What difference do I want to make

For example, let’s look at learning and sharing:

2013-11-09 What would bigger be like

I was content with my progress before I started exploring this. Now I’m more excited about the possibilities. It’s a little scary – more opportunities to fall flat on my face! – but imagining what “bigger” would be like helps encourage me to go for it.

What do you want your delta to be? What could help you increase it?