The Path of Learning

Learning Meta

One of the most important – and difficult – things one should be able to do is learn. That is, to go from a state of knowing nothing on a topic to knowing something on that topic. Obviously, you know something about some things (and perhaps even many things), but undoubtedly there are some things of which you know nothing. As a matter of fact, this is something I’m dealing with at the very moment.

I’m trying to learn how to program. It has long been on my mind and I keep coming back to it. Very specifically, I’m trying to learn front-end web development (so I can make a better, more personal website using the tools of the trade: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) and Swift (because there’s an app that I really want to build, where I have an unmet need – I thought people just said this, but I’m finding it to be a driving force). Much of this is a personal desire and an urge to learn.

This is an effort & exercise of going from knowing nothing (or very little – on the front-end side, I know the basics of HTML & CSS, but not enough to be dangerous). I try to make a little progress every day in an effort to avoid burning out (which is one of the strategies I’m exploring – doing enough to move the needle a little). I could probably cobble together a Frankenstein monster of a website if I was forced to. But I want to make something I enjoy using myself, not something I’m forced to use out of necessity.

The question of “How can I learn?” comes up repeatedly. I’m thinking about it right now, and I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know the answer. Or rather, there are so many answers, I don’t know which one is right. I have one option left to me: experimentation. I wish there was a one size fits all approach. It would make learning so much easier if I could rely on something that was guaranteed to fit everyone. But that’s not the case; or if there is, I haven’t found it yet.

What I’m certain of is that there are no shortcuts or hacks available to me. That is, I must do the hard work involved with learning (and that includes experimentation [and bashing my head against a problem – hopefully, the problem cracks first]). I’m going to be going through several different strategies and committing my conclusions of which works best (or perhaps best for a certain use case) in an extended series going forward. The first is one on How to Read a Book, and it'll begin tomorrow. This is one strategy that I’m very familiar and comfortable with and plays an important role in my life. But there are others – spaced repetition, interleaving, retrieval, and more – that I have only just learned about and I think are worth exploring. Even just reading and accruing information (and, hopefully, a little knowledge) isn’t enough, especially for practical purposes such as programming. But it is a good and important start.

My end goal for this series is simple: a comprehensive series on different learning strategies. I’ll explore which ones work, which don’t, and what I did – and with which tools – to practice them. After all, expounding on a topic is one thing; concrete examples are another.

As I publish, I’ll keep this post up to date with all the strategies & links. This is likely to be (minimum) a year-long effort, and will probably extend beyond that. Some strategies may require me to come back after trying another; some I may get on the first try. You’ll be right there in the passenger seat to see where I succeed and where I fall flat!

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