Learning New Things : My Process

I’ve written about this before on the blog, but I think it’s important you understand a little about the process of learning new stuff.

There is a classic way to help transfer things from your short term memory to your long term memory.

  • Cover the material. Read it. Understand it. Try it out. Convince yourself you know what is going on. Maybe discuss it with someone. This first step is the most important. If you have truly done this step, not skim read some stuff whilst occasionally looking through the window, you are part of the way there.
  • Within a couple of days, skim through the material again. You don’t have to go into as much depth as before, but make sure you cover the pertinent points.
  • About a week later, skim through the material again.

At this point, there is a very good chance you will know the information and it will have moved from your short term memory to your long term memory.

I find writing helps me with this process.

  • When I am learning something new I take notes in a text editor. These notes often form the basis of articles. At the end of this process I’ve covered all the material and got working examples and links to the relevant source material, but it’s not in a form that’s fit to publish. This is my 1st pass through the material.
  • Within a couple of days I neaten everything up and add a little more explanation and hit the publish button. This is my 2nd pass.
  • Invariably someone will make a comment or ask a question about the content. Every time someone does I read the whole article/post again. This is my 3rd, 4th, 20th pass. 🙂

My process naturally falls into the pattern I mentioned earlier, which helps me learn stuff. It’s worth mentioning I never even try to remember syntax. It is a waste of my time. It is process and context that I care about, not party tricks.

This process works for me. It might not work so well for you. The important point is you should define and constantly refine your process until it is optimal for you. Schools and Universities don’t tend to focus on helping you learn how to learn. In my experience you are left to your own devices for that. Here’s a quote from Dune.

“… because his first training was in how to learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.”

Check out the rest of this series here.