Gosh, I had a great year in 2014! Aside from shipping the wonderfully-improved second edition of Grails In Action, I exited two companies, developed and launched a completely rewritten Git Quickstart course into the Aussie market, hacked some really fun JSF and .Net apps for clients, and started building some awesome minihabits into my life.
One of my journeys last year was into accelerated learning techniques, and I stumbled across a really important idea that is probably old news for some, but was totally new to me:
You have a learning style - a preferred way of taking in new concepts! When you find out what it is, you will learn more efficiently, and retain it more effectively.
According to Wikipedia, the whole field of learning styles is pretty unsubstantiated - “although there is ample evidence that individuals express preferences for how they prefer to receive information”. On that train, I’ve found Neil Fleming’s VARK (Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic) model stuff super helpful. Here’s why…
Why learning style matters..
When you optimise to your preferred learning method, you can retain tons more. Tons.
My previous learning methods centred mostly around reading tech books. eBooks mostly. But I’ve found that eBooks haven’t been all that efficient for me.
Good for reference, for sure, but how many times have you read a entire book only to discover you’ve only retained a tiny fraction of what they covered?
So how do you determine your learning style?
Here’s where things get a little meta. You have to start working out how you like to learn, and what kinds of learning have been most efficient for you and your brain. You can do a questionnaire if you’re stuck. But you’re a software developer, so you get meta more easily than most. Have a think, and work out how you best learn!
My discovery last year was that I learn best by reverse engineering examples. It always has been my preferred style - even in high school maths!
Since discovering I learn from visual example, my typical learning flow is now:
- Look at a decent example and try and “guess” how it works
- Watch a basic video to get “just enough” back story to get the gist
- Apply that to a few more examples to see if I can reverse engineer them
- Road test it for yourself with my own example
- Fill in the gaps with “just enough” reading/video training as required
Your method may be wildly different. This path isn’t very efficient - but my brain finds the reverse engineering thing super tasty. So I assimilate that knowledge much more easily. Put some energy into working out what that flow is for you - it will pay off.
Interestingly it has affected how I train people too. When I train, I typically cover the same material from a few different learning style angles (some tactile, some visual, some auditory) and have found the multimodal thing pretty effective. So regardless of how dodgy the learning style theory is, the multimodal thing is definitely brain friendly!
So… how does that practically play out for me?
Last year I did a huge amount of .Net programming. I’m traditionally a Java guy so, even though the C# language is quite similar, all of the frameworks are new. I needed to learn fast.
Pluralsight was a game changer for me. I knew I was a visual learner, but this sealed the deal.
Super. Effective. Learning.
Watched a few hours of Entity Framework vids, and I was productive. A couple more of XAML and was much more comfortable in the WPF GUI stuff. Really worthwhile!
And best of all, my retention is significantly better than just reading a stack of eBooks on a those topic.
So clearly I’m a visual learner! YMMV.
What about you? Supercharge your 2015 learning!
Totally recommend you spend some energy this year working out how you most efficiently learn, then make the switch to more of that this year. Don’t feel you have to limit yourself to book - there is a world of multi-modal stuff online!
It’s gonna be an awesome year to learn!