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Learning to Learn: how to improve yourself

An example of an underdeveloped brain :)I have a massive appetite for learning. I am always reading books and blogs to try to better understand the things I want to do. Design, programming, marketing, copy-writing, I constantly strive to improve.

On the web your skill set needs to evolve constantly. Things change at a massive pace. New technologies are constantly being introduced and to compete you have to learn.

The best way to do this is to learn by doing

By trying out new ideas yourself you will see what works best for the way you work. Not everything you read will be suitable, or fit into, your processes, however if you try these new things then you can adjust them to fit your workflow.

Benefits of learning by doing

  • the more you do the more you learn Sounds like I am repeating myself but what I mean is that ‘learning to learn’ opens your mind up to new possibilities. Learning about anything is worthwhile as it will exercise your brain making you a more all round competitor. And being online, you need to compete if you want to succeed.
  • Doing something encourages learning Reading about something is totally different to seeing it put into practice. If you’re the one doing it you will experience the problems and advantages first hand, and that will enhance your knowledge (whatever the outcome).
  • Learning new things opens your eyes to new ideas Learning a new technique may not only give you the opportunity to add another buzzword to your cv – but it could give you an idea for a new feature on a website, it could give you ammunition for your blog, it could give you the opportunity to help someone (hopefully someone with influence :) ). It could even give you an idea for an entirely new project
  • it’s fun Look at it as a challenge, where you are the only winner, and learning can suddenly become hugely enjoyable.
  • It’s recession proof If something goes horribly wrong with what you do now, you will have added skills to fall back on

Being the sort of person who is interested in everything, I have ended up teaching myself all sorts of different things. For example:

  • I learnt to program 3D games (Rocket Boards), which I later sold, and which impressed my future boss enough that he would give me a job at Miniclip.com the worlds largest flash games site… and I haven’t made a 3D game since :(
  • I learnt WordPress so that I could blog, and I now run a Premium WordPress themes site.
  • I learnt web design to show off my digital art, and then discovered I was better at web dev than I was at art. A shame but it gave me a direction.

In the future I plan to learn:

  • How to use the Twitter API – by creating a web application that does something with Twitter
  • How to use Codeigniter – probably combined with the comment above. I’ve used CI in small amounts but have only scratched the surface
  • How to effectively market a web product – I reckon I could use this all over the place

What I am trying to say is that the ONLY way to learn is to DO. If you don’t try the things you have learnt then you might as well not have bothered doing the learning.

Teaching yourself to learn is a skill – and it’s a skill worth learning. Some people prefer to go to lectures and to read books, and they’re really good, but online things move so fast that you have to pick things up quickly or you’ll get left behind.

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Join me, Ed, Alex Denning, Epic Alex. They're all chatting about "Learning to Learn: how to improve yourself" below ›

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8 Comments »

  1. I guess it’s the classic case as well of you can’t do anything well without practising. Whether it be a sport, musical instrument or web design.

    I’m definitely in the boat of having learnt WordPress because I ‘had to’. I had a site that was designed for me and used WordPress, so when I wanted to change something I had to learn how to do it myself. Another thing that this brings is that you find a lot of places online where you know you can get answers when you need them, or code snippets etc.

    If you had to do this with one programming language, and then needed to try and do something with another programming language, you’re going to be in a better place for having learnt yourself, rather than having learnt the first one from a book.

    I’m a foreign language student, and we’re always told that one of the biggest things we learn while studying, is how to learn other languages.

    • Yeah – I totally understand this. My electronics teacher at school (many years ago now! :S) always used to say that:

      “Your brain is a muscle, if you don’t use it it will grow flabby and weak”

      That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be learning non-stop but learning anything (or reading, or thinking, or being creative) keeps you interested and keeps your mind ticking over.

  2. ‘I learnt web design to show off my digital art, and then discovered I was better at web dev than I was at art. A shame but it gave me a direction.’

    Thats me in a nutshell :) great post mate

  3. Interesting article. Are many 3rd level courses/degrees in the UK too long? My experience of 3rd level ed. is similar to others: a lot of time spent doing not-a-lot. Wouldn´t miss the enjoyment factor of 3rd level ed. for anything. But 3 yrs was a long time (can enjoy oneself, too, travelling, whatever). In hindsight would like to have done a practical course (lasting one year), then another year travelling / working abroad (nothing to strenuous), and then the third year getting down to some practical work – learning-on-the-job, so-to-speak – rather than the three years spent on an arts course that was mildly interesting, but way too long, and not that useful ..

    • Personally I found my degree really interesting and helpful. The degree itself didn’t teach me a huge amount, the benefit I received was mostly through opportunity. Being given the chance to work on fantastic hardware, with top of the line software surrounded by talented like minded individuals was one of the best times of my life. It helped that I chose a course that was very broad and covered many disciplines that I was interested in.

      I didn’t have any placement work but that didn’t really bother me, I did get some design jobs during the summer holidays (via my connections at Uni), and for me it all worked out really well.

      One thing uni did teach me was simply what this post is about. University is where I learnt to learn. The lecturers pointed me in the right direction and then it was down to me to take things to the next level.

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