Thoughts on learning

I love to learn. I am an information junkie. Learning is part of my DNA, it’s literally woven into the facet of my being. My curiosities take me everywhere, from the physical to the metaphysical and back. I can find almost anything fascinating, and even in the mundane there are interesting things to take away. During my ruminations on topics, I have uncovered a process that I follow. It’s not a step-by-step, but a more generic framework for learning. I will share that framework with you.

How to Learn

Learning how to learn is the most important part of the process. Once you've attained this skill, anything is within your reach. I wont define this process because I feel that it is personal to the individual. Also, there is already a ton of material out there that breaks up the process of how to learn a subject. This is a good start:

http://zenhabits.net/how-to-learn-more-and-study-less/

http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/carroll.htm

 

There are however several factors that can impact the learning process, and I’ll go over a few:

1)     Speed – When delving into new topic, it’s important to set goals and timelines. The topic should be learned rapidly. I can’t even tell you the number of times I've decided I wanted to learn a skill, tried, failed, and then stopped.

2)     Failure – Failure is critical to the learning process for two reasons.  The first is it’s a stop gap - a logic check to see if learning this topic is really important to you, or if it is just and intellectual fad. The second is you learn more when you fail at something. When I was dabbling with my Arduino (small microprocessor) I learned more about electronics by what I could not do then what I could.

3)     Self-Categorization – Do not categorize yourself. Saying to yourself I am not X, will inexorable lead you down a path that shrinks your sphere within the framework of knowledge. I am a nerd, but if I let that stop me from lifting weights I would lack the muscular frame that I now have.

4)     Try it – You have to get your hands dirty at some point. Theory will only get you so far.

 

Why Learn

It’s fun! But seriously - I break up learning into two categories – things I have to learn, and things I want to learn. Things I have to learn are not necessarily things I want to learn, and vice versa. When I have to learn something it is generally related to my income… if I need to learn a new programming language, a new framework, operating system, or computer concept I generally tackle it vigorously in attempt to get it done. Sometimes it’s boring or it is not the way I’d like to spend my time, but I have to do it, so I do. I try to find the fun in it, and usually end up better off for taking the time and learning it.

The things I want to learn are… Anything! Right now the list is huge – JavaScript  automotive repair, home maintenance (as it comes along), gardening, mobile development, solar energy, physics (theoretical, I’ve got mechanical down enough), hardware interfacing, how to be a better member of my community. The trick with these things that I want to learn is I usually don’t get them down as fast or as well as things I have to learn. This is all about framing your learning experience, and putting into a working model for how you learn. Right now, I am doing 2 hours a day on JavaScript  I hope to have a good working knowledge of Javascript within a month.

 

What to learn

Fundamentals: To pickup a topic, one must first know the fundamentals. If I want to learn a new programming language, it is easier now because I know the fundamentals. Delving into a draconian or esoteric philosophical topic is easier now, because I know the fundamentals. Fundamental knowledge is much more important when you find there are many things in a general field of study you need to be able to learn quickly.

I need to be able to learn programming topics and languages quickly, so a fundamental knowledge of computer science is requisite. However, for something like auto-repair, a fundamental knowledge is not necessary, since I will likely only end up doing minor maintenance work on my vehicles. To properly learn and to not waste time and effort, one must examine the breadth of what they want to learn, and tackle the subject accordingly.