« All Episodes

4: Learning about Learning

Published 1/8/2015

Learning is one of the most important skills for developers to cultivate. In this episode, I'll talk about why that's the case, and a method for learning you might not have tried before.
Today's episode goes just a tad over 10 minutes - I'm doing my best to cut out the cruft, though.

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider buying me some tea.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hello everyone and welcome to episode 4 of Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today we're going to be talking about learning. Today is the first time that we're going to be talking about learning on Developer Tea. It probably won't be the last time but I decided to dedicate one of the early episodes to this topic because I think once again it's incredibly important to Developer To cultivate the skill of learning. You may not view learning as a skill but learning is an integral part of what you do as a developer every single day. The reason it's so important is because what we do every day changes so often and we have to be able to learn the new techniques, we have to be able to learn new ways of doing things because everything about what we do changes so much. I'll give you an easy example to show you how different being a developer is from some other jobs. If you are a blacksmith, the training you receive on day one is going to be pretty much applicable throughout your entire career. Now if you are a web developer, the training that you receive on day one probably won't be applicable in even two or three years from now. Now obviously there are some exceptions to this rule like for instance learning how computers work and learning the history of computers and how to keep your code dry and some of the fundamental elements of being a computer engineer but there are a lot of things that do change in our industry. There's a lot of things that we do now for instance in web development that 10 years ago wasn't even possible. This is a result of the fact that technology moves incredibly fast. In fact it moves at an exponential rate. So how do we cultivate the skill of learning? In other words how do we learn how to learn? This is really the question that people are asking when they come up to me and they say how do you learn how to be a web developer? The first part of that question is how do you learn? Today I'd like to talk about a technique for you to begin down the road of becoming a better learner. The technique is relatively simple. It basically employs the scientific method to changing behavior in yourself. So you set yourself up by creating something to shoot for a goal, a way of saying yes at this point once I'm able to do this particular thing then I can say that I've learned this subject. So if you're learning for instance how to write a Rails application then you might would set out to create a particular Rails application that acts as your proposition, your final end point. The next part of this is to actually go about learning. So choose a method of learning whether that's reading or maybe it's watching someone else do something in person or maybe it's just simply sitting down at a computer and googling and then going back and writing code. Do something to learn and measure the effect of whatever that particular process is. So it might be that you measure how much of your application gets built based on a particular learning experience that you have and maybe that you find some sort of objective test to measure yourself by. Whatever it is find a way to measure your learning experience and then compare and move back to step one, start over and use a different learning method. What you'll find is you're going to develop a particular affinity to a learning style or another. It may be that you learn best by first reading something and then turning around and trying to implement something that you read or it may be that you learn best by trying to implement and then reading about it and then trying to re-implement it. There are so many different ways to learn and you need to take the time to explore the different ways of learning. Now you're not on your own. There has been quite a bit of research in this area as well. One thing that I can tell you about this and you should take some time to Google some of the research. One thing that's for certain in a lot of this research is that people learn most effectively when they are actually active, when they actually do something with the material that they are learning while they are learning it in some way. So whether that's like I was saying before, reading and then turning around and doing or trying to do something and reading about it after you fail at that first attempt, be active while you are learning. Don't just sit back and learn by osmosis. Now remember that you're a human being and learning is not a science. There are some scientific things around learning that will help you become a better learner but ultimately you are a human being. And so different methods of learning and different ways of measuring your learning, not all of them are going to be absolutely accurate. And it may be that something that you learned three different methods ago is finally becoming clear in your most recent method and that's skewing your results. So ultimately you trying to measure yourself, it's kind of an inexact science. So for that reason when you are measuring yourself don't take for granted the value of subjective measurements. In other words, take notes in how you feel about a particular method. If you are really enjoying watching someone do something in person versus watching somebody do something on a screencast, that's a valuable thing for you to know about yourself. Because if you're enjoying learning then you're most likely to continue learning. If you are just dredging through something and it's just awful and you hate doing it but you know that it's supposed to be the most effective method for you to learn, well you're probably going to quit. You're probably going to get tired of doing something that you just honestly hate doing. Regardless of how effective it may be, it will drop to zero effectiveness if you can't sustain it. This goes back to what we were talking about in episode two. You have to wrap your learning habits around your ability to focus. And if you can't focus on something then regardless of how effective that method is supposed to be, it's going to be completely useless to you if you are unable to focus because it's just miserable to you. So just to recap what we've talked about today, learning is incredibly important, especially to people who are working with computers, people who are working in the development community. Because learning is so important, we should take it upon ourselves to become better learners. There's a myriad of ways to become a better learner. One way that I propose is to employ a sort of scientific method, set a goal, build, measure, and repeat. If you can learn to do these things and continue to do them, you're going to become a constantly self-bettering developer. You're going to be able to learn about how you learn and learn to employ those new methods of learning constantly. Finally, don't forget that you're a human being, not a machine. It doesn't matter how much measuring you do, sometimes scientific methods will fail on you because subjective things really do matter. So if you are not enjoying a particular method of learning, even though it might be scientifically the most effective method of learning, it's going to affect you negatively when you try to do that thing over and over because you're not going to be able to focus if you're not enjoying yourself. That's all we have time for today. This is in no way a complete understanding of learning. In future episodes, we're definitely going to continue this conversation. For now, I hope you've really enjoyed this conversation. I hope it will encourage you to have this conversation with the people around you and people that you know whether they're a developer or not. I just really hope that you can have conversations around this podcast that provide value to your life and make your life better and make you a better human being. If you have any suggestions, if you have ideas, if you'd like to suggest a topic for a future episode, if you absolutely hated this episode, I want to hear about it. You can get me on Twitter at at Developer Teaor you can email me directly at Developer Tea at gmail.com. Until next time, enjoy your tea.