Whether you are a beginner or an experienced professional, learning is a lifelong journey. I share 7 of the most valued principles I apply, in this post, while taking up any new topic to learn. I may as well call them progress stages, given their nature.
The points discussed below are purely from my experience. I have been in the tech industry for quite some time. I can confirm these work best to learn any new technical skill. However, these points may also work for non-tech domains.
Being carefully curious
In my experience, I have come across people with various kinds and levels of curiosity. To begin with, there is an attraction factor in play. People find sure topics very attractive, only to find out it is not much of use to them, and they end up spending a substantial amount of time to realize the same.
To put some perspective on this, there are an infinite amount of things to learn and be skillful at. As against, we have very little time on this planet. Our focus should be on being skillful and gaining expertise in a particular niche. Otherwise, learning is just learning for no reason.
There is nothing wrong with it. One should indulge in taking short detours for the sake of freshness. But to achieve something serious, it is crucial to stick to a direction. Do not get carried away by something flashy and shiny.
So choose your topics well. Conduct ample research to just realize its possibilities and similar parameters that may matter to you in the future. Decide if you want to just skim through it - the way you are doing it now - or go deeper. Remember that if you decide to commit to something, never look back.
Choose your Learning style - visual, text, audio.
A lot of content is available in all formats and prices. From free to paid, from text to video. As far as the pricing aspect of learning a new skill is concerned - an ample amount of beginner content is available. Some of the topics also have expert-level classes available for free on the internet.
The quality of the available content - both free and paid - may vary and depend on the creator of that course. The decision to invest time and money into a particular course should be based on the direction you want to move.
Optimizing the cost of learning is all about using the search engine effectively. Additionally, picking the right bits of information from non-educational content can go a long way. For example, just by listening to a podcast, you can build a mindmap to understand and clarify certain doubts you always had in the back of your mind.
Each of us is more comfortable with a particular format of content - visual, text, and audio. These formats have their pros and cons.
Visual content is very effective as the creators can take advantage of the color screen to demonstrate various concepts while the commentary runs in parallel. It is the closest form of attending a class face to face. This involves the absorption of information using two sensory organs - eyes and ears.
The text is fascinating. At first, it may come across as bland and time-consuming, but it builds the understanding well, provided the author is good. If you have that sense, you can actually observe the tone of the author and much more. It does not require you to be in a "space" to consume the knowledge from text instead of visual format.
Audio, on the other hand, is the most convenient form of information consumption. All you need is a pair of headphones to listen and focus on the topic being taught or discussed. However, it can get limiting if the subject requires serious hands-on work. Learning to code using an audiobook - I think it is impossible.
I am a massive fan of text-based learning. However, I do not limit myself to it. I think a hybrid approach involving multiple sensors to grasp any concept is practical. I do not miss an opportunity to try out any new format apart from the ones discussed above.
When it is about learning, setting a target date is a sin. Learn because you want to - not to pass an exam. Let the exam result be a byproduct. One of the things I dreaded about schools and college was the exam schedules. I was never content with the way I learned, even the subjects of my interest.
Everybody has their own pace of learning. Learning anything is not a race, so rushing through a topic is pointless. Instead, the focus should be on being comfortable with the topic, which happens only when you take it as per your pace.
Do not be in a hurry to announce to the world that you are an SME. Haste causes us to not be receptive to unconventional channels of information. The race to the book's last page often makes us ignore more meaningful bits coming from elsewhere—for instance - group discussions, podcasts, random videos on the topic, etc.
Make sure you understand what you just read. The first impression does not guarantee you acquire all of the knowledge intended to be conveyed. Do not shy away from reading it as many times as required. Nobody is going to judge you for that.
What matters at the end of the day is that if you want to call yourself an SME - you are doing justice to the same. You should know the subject so well that you can offer a solution that makes the most sense for the given situation and resonate with like-minded individuals.
This is more on the time management aspect - I have covered the time management aspect of learning in greater detail in one of the previous posts here.
In that post, I discuss crystalizing the time slot you have dedicated solely to learning. Do focused learning strictly within the decided timeslots. Start when you are supposed to, and stop when you are supposed to.
Learning in intervals makes you dive in and out of the subject multiple times, thus reducing friction and broadening the mental channels to facilitate easier logical aspects.Pomodoro technique in this context is just a placeholder term here since many know about this productivity hack. However, the idea is to develop your own pattern of crystalizing the learning time. For that matter, you may develop your productivity hacks in general.
Learn by doing
This is perhaps an essential piece of the learning process. Once we have gained the knowledge, we should start taking baby steps by implementing it regularly. It is true in almost all the cases where we do not get deployed on a job just after reading a book. A training phase is always involved, no matter how much knowledge you have.
We learn stuff with some purpose. And gaining knowledge is the first step toward fulfilling that purpose. Nobody learns to ride a bicycle just by reading and studying the physics behind it. Even though we know it, we struggle in the first few kilometers before learning to ride one.
Humans need some initial "knack" to put the knowledge gained to use.
The same principle is used when they say - learn from your mistakes. Mistakes represent the vital gaps in our knowledge. We commit mistakes because we do not know certain critical aspects of the concept. Mistakes are just a reflection of these gaps.
Of course, do not get discouraged by making mistakes - in fact, be happy about the fact that you are making efforts to fully prove your knowledge. We all have to learn from our mistakes; otherwise, there is a thin difference between being termed losers.
Project teams today adopt the notion of "fail early". The quality of knowledge gained by failing is great because the knowledge thus gained is attested with practical proof of the gap. Books teach you one side, and mistakes teach you the rest.
By this time, we have a fair amount of confidence in the skill we have learned. But we do lack the real-world experience of the same. It is time to step into the water and understand the trade aspect.
Real-world experience makes us understand the financial, legal, environmental, etc., aspects of putting that skill into practice. Most importantly, it is the consultation aspect that should be the focus here. Imagine yourself being able to solve any random problem with your skill.
Answering the question - How can I help solve a problem statement? - will put you on the thinking track, get rid of the naivety, and offer a more relevant approach for your clients.
To begin with, if possible, start by building smaller projects for yourself. This tests our overall knowledge and pushes us to think out of the box. For example, learning a programming language is one thing - building something out of it and making it available to the world makes you face questions related to hosting, SEO, client feedback, etc. - things usually not covered in courses.
As a next step, to gain deeper insights into the real-world implementations, assist some experts who already have gone through the path. This improves our understanding of the skill and its trade.
After a while, there comes a time when we gain enough confidence to earn our first buck. If you are a freelancer, you may want to start by offering help at lower costs. This gives a sense of ownership over your skill. Besides, having someone pay for your efforts is a huge motivation and boosts confidence.
Also, by this time, we would have learned to tackle the mistakes we may make as humans. We are not perfect. But the mistakes you now make, with a sense of ownership, enable you to react appropriately with disaster recovery techniques to minimize the damage.
In a way, the way one recovers from their mistake highlights the expertise they possess and the experience they have. This is also a top indicator of being an expert.
We may wonder - we have already started earning based on the skills we have just developed, so what else is there to further improve upon this? To answer this, I always quote that teaching someone the skill you already possess takes you to the next level.
There is a difference between being an expert and being a subject matter expert (SME). Teaching requires us to embody the knowledge of our skill in all the aspects possible. Aspects that may not be used in day-to-day trade.
To the very least, teaching makes us responsible for answering questions that we may have never thought about. I also call this learning from others' perspectives. This in turn helps you improve the quality of the work you perform and gain command over the subject.