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Why Do You Learn?

Like many of us, I've drowned in resources to learn new skills or improve existing ones. From Udemy, to documentation, to YouTube. But with all the resources out there, it makes me think - how much are you retaining, revisiting, or actually absorbing?

I ask this because for myself, a college and bootcamp (Flatiron School) graduate, I found that I struggled a lot with retaining what I've been taught. Specifically with bootcamp, learning and grasping programming concepts definitely was something I struggled with (and still do!). The usual action taken from this is to keep studying and practising, so that's what I did. Like they say, "Practice makes perfect".

Currently I've got 9 Udemy courses (2 complete), I've joined the Zero to Mastery Academy, connected with an amazing mentor, purchased helpful books (The Well-Grounded Rubyist, Eloquent JavaScript), and I feel like I'm doing everything I should be - but I still have trouble. I get it, programming isn't easy, imposter syndrome is real, and I'm not the only person who feels this way and is taking all these measures to improve.

So why is learning such a struggle? I'll admit, I've improved my learning techniques since being a Flatiron School student. They really do a great job at teaching how to learn, understand your thought process, and dig for solutions 🙌. But what I've learned recently through the Learning to Learn - Efficient Learning course on the Zero to Mastery platform is that since childhood we've been trained to learn to pass, not to understand. This really set off a 💡 in my head. Wow - it's true, all these years the goal has been to learn to get a good grade, but what happens after that grade? Most of what I've learned in college or high school died after passing a course I crammed for the night before. I find that (for myself at least) understanding how I've been learning for all these years is the first step to improving how I learn moving forward. Now I'm able to identify whether or not I understand a concept, or if I'm just trying to race to the end goal (finish a project, finish a course etc.). Learning to unlearn, and improving how we do learn is truly an important factor. An article that's shared in this course called The Lesson to Unlearn really made this clear for me, so I wanted to share it. It is a bit of a read, but it's a great one - so if you don't have time to read it all now, be sure to bookmark it!

Also - I was just recently recommended this book called Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware which focuses on learning how we learn, with concepts you can apply to get better at whatever you do. I just ordered it on Amazon yesterday, so no feedback yet - but I'd be happy to share some insights once I start reading it.

Before I end this blog post, I wanted to ask you - "Why Do You Learn?" And I don't mean it in a sense of learning new skills etc. But more so, how are you justifying your learning experience? Are you understanding concepts? Are you learning to pass a course? Are you absorbing what you learn, and if so how do you measure your learning?

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Top comments (4)

jacksoft profile image
Jacksoft CS • Edited

This is a great article, I can relate to a lot of what you said. I took many classes and I don't really remember a lot from the materials. I learn to understand how things work and how to program and apply the knowledge to real world problem. Sometimes, I feel like I didn't learn anything from most of my classes because I don't really put them to use. I need to stat doing projects on the side to keep learning.

heysarahpaz profile image

You're right! Doing projects is a great way to solidify what we learn. I'm guilty of that as well! I have a side project right now, but with all the other material I'm trying to learn plus work, it gets pushed down the priority list unfortunately. My mentor has suggested working on small projects, so they're easier to tackle with a busy schedule, but still keeps you motivated by seeing the results. Maybe that would be a good idea for you as well?

shanise profile image
Shanise Barona

Love the resources you've shared in this post!

My coding journey has taught me A LOT about myself and my learning habits as well. I bounced back and forth from taking super detailed notes, to not taking any notes at all. I struggled with figuring out how to retain stuff, but as you mentioned, we are conditioned to pass and not to understand. So trying to recall something I didn't even understand well to begin with was even more challenging.

Now I learn to understand by doing the following:

  1. Note taking using the Feynman technique. (I've tweaked it some for my own preferences and am hoping to write a blog post detailing it soon.) This has been a game changer for me and significantly improved not only my retention, but my understanding of what I am learning.

  2. Purchased a sketchbook! This was a puzzle piece I've been missing. I realized I went back and forth with the traditional note taking because it felt too rigid. I learned that what I needed was to write things out in a way that resonates, and that doesn't have to always be just words. I doodle often and as I go through tutorials and videos, I find myself wishing there was a happy medium: more diagrams! I plan to draw my own little diagrams to help analogies stand out to me and have another mental model for what I am learning.

  3. Talk or teach. This is a part of 1's technique, but teaching something is a great way to understand it. At the beginning of my journey, I volunteered, TA'ed and got to teach and present and that really solidified what I was learning at the time. A technical blog post or article is another good way of teaching. However, being able to teach isn't an opportunity that's always available so I try to talk about what I've just learned with my partner or a coworker to solidify my learning. Bonus points if the thing is also new to them because then you've really got to explain it! Something I haven't yet tried, but plan to is recording myself either walking through a coding example or project. Feels like you're teaching but if no one else but you watches it, that absolutely still counts. Plus added practice in explaining your code which is a crucial skill to build.

heysarahpaz profile image

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I recently learned about the Feynman technique so I've been implementing that in my learning as well. I also really love your sketchbook idea, I actually think I should do the same! I've gone from writing notes, to using Notion to type notes, then back to writing out notes, but I feel like I'm also very visual and need more diagrams as well. I don't know why I never considered this before but I guess it's because writing notes seemed to be more typical of studying that I just assumed that should be enough. I'll probably order a sketchbook tonight! I've also heard a lot about teaching as well. I used to try to talk out what I've learned to my partner who isn't technical at all, and when she'd question things it helped me dig deeper into my understanding and break it down even more. So I think I do need to try to include that into the learning process as well. I have been looking into volunteering to teach kids code, but with everything going on right now I'm sure those events will be cancelled/rescheduled. But I will be sure to look into other opportunities to try to mentor and teach what I learn.

Thanks again!