4 powerful steps to improve your learning
When we set out to acquire new skills related to technical topics, we struggle with how to do this effectively. It's time we review our learning process and improve it for the demands of our current era.
Juan F. González
When you enter a new tech topic, it can be difficult to understand what it entails. This is especially true when you aren't familiar with the terminology or how it is used. With that in mind, it can be helpful to know what to expect when you're approaching the subject.
This blog will give you a 4-step process to improve your learning when you are facing a new tech topic.
The traditional way of learning new things that we got from high school or college has now become quite inefficient for the world we now live in.
From learning a subject in 6 months approx. To start using it and putting it into practice (and realizing that we don't know it as well as we thought) to get some results with it.
While we can consider this process "normal" and works in some situations. It leaves a lot to be desired when you face a topic that you want (or have) to learn. This is particularly true when you are dealing with complex technical topics.
For this situation is that we need better strategies to learn better, faster, and more efficient.
Starting from the basics, let's see what steps you can take to add some ‘firepower’ to your learning process.
Step 1: Pick a goal.
The first thing you have to do is have a clear & definite goal of what's that you want to accomplish with your learning. When I say clear and definite I mean just that. It needs to have a specific end and purpose defined or else this is not going to work.
One thing is saying something like “I want to learn Python”. Another very different is saying "I'm interested in data science so I'm going to learn Python to make my own projects".
The first is vague, ambiguous, and doesn't lead anywhere relevant. It's like when people say in January "I'm going to start going to the gym again". That statement is not even a proper goal.
You could start making all kinds of questions like “Why are you going to do it?” “When are you going to start?” “How many days a week?” "Will you train alone or with a trainer or friends?" And we could go on and on.
So the important part here is that you break your big, bold, audacious ambitions into small, definite, clear goals. Once you have your goal "clear" in your mind (and even written down) you can continue moving forward.
Step 2. Set a timeline
Now, here's an even better part for your “clear goals”. They are going to have a beginning and an end. But unlike what you might be thinking, the end part is going to be close. Uncomfortably close I'd say.
We talked before about how we used to learn subjects in college in a semester. Well, how about half of that? Better yet, if you can commit and take the time out consistently, you'll make it in less time.
The timeline, of course, depends on the subject you'll be tackling.
It's not the same thing to “learn TensorFlow to make an image clasification program”…
To something like “understand the basics of quantum mechanics to get into quantum computing”.
One topic is less complex and demanding than the other. This of course, strongly depends on your theorical background.
A psychologist learning web development will need more time and effort than a financial analyst learning about crypto and the blockchain.
The important part here is that you pick a specific timeline and even better if you share that with others (for accountability purposes). Give yourself a reward if you make it in time or have others give you some sort of “punishment” for not making it.
Step 3. Get feedback
So, you started your learning journey, getting into the subject, absorbing the knowledge, and getting a grasp of the concepts.
One of the key parts of this process is that you don't just gather information or do repetitive tasks for the sake of “practice”. Check regularly if what you're doing is correct. Also, knowing how to direct your learning is important to keep you moving forward on the right path.
This is why feedback is important. There are subjects that lend themselves better to feedback than others.
Drawing portraits or writing essays is one thing. Doing code challenges or driving a rally car is another.
Ideally, you would want to get feedback within the same day you're learning and doing your practice.
I've seen others and myself included that have waited an extended time to get feedback on our work. This is mainly because we don't "feel ready" or because it's going to be embarrassing to show it to someone else, be it knowledgeable in the subject or not.
Proper and timely feedback will allow you to course correct to keep moving forward and achieve your goal within your set timeline. It'll help you not get stuck, "spinning your wheels" or repeating mistakes you've made several times already.
The sooner you can get feedback on your work, the better it will be for your general learning process.
Step 4. Review results
When you completed your learning challenge or at the end of the set timeline. It's now time to look back and see what you accomplished. Take lessons out of the experience and use them to inform your future learning.
The review process might be as important as defining the goals, if not more. Here is where you take the info and details necessary to refine your learning approach and make it more effective for the future.
Regardless if you achieved the goal, were this close to doing it or couldn't at all. Doing the review is always useful and will give you real-world experience. The one you'll need to get better at the subject of your learning.
Probably your goal proved to be much more difficult than expected and you needed more time. Or you procrastinated and wasted time in the beginning and then started picking up the pace later on.
You could also find that overestimated the subject and it was easier than you thought. Maybe you achieved the goal and it taught you that you weren't ambitious enough and could have done more in the same timeframe.
There are several other situations that you can come across. This will only become apparent to you when you do the proper review process.
Conclusion: It is all about the mindset.
In the end, what's important is that…
- You keep your mind open.
- Have a disposition for trying new things.
- Don't fear getting feedback early.
- Use that info to course correct.
- And overall keep moving forward despite setbacks and obstacles that will come your way.
For this is useful to have what I call the “experimenter's mindset”. This is when you treat everything that happens as data inputs. You note them down and then analyze later on when you have enough of them.
What may happen, good or bad is not a commentary of your worth as a person. It's not that you take more time to grasp a subject because you're “dumb” or “mentally challenged”. The reverse of that statement is also true.
It might happen that you understand the subject more easily because you had some background knowledge of something else you did or read. In that case, it is extra help you get and can use to move quicker through the material.
You'll find that following these 4 steps above will give you more “bang for your learning buck”.
Keep learning, keep improving, and keep moving forward. Remember that you have not really failed at anything if you haven't given up on it and are still out there trying.
If you have gone all the way here, thanks for you time reading this. Hope it's been useful for you and you can go ahead and start being more efficient and intentional with your learning process. Keep getting those reps in 💪
Juan F. González
Web developer turned online writer. I help knowledge workers & online creators learn effectively and build the necessary skills to achieve their goals.