In response to The Daily Post writing prompt on February 20, 2013.
Prompt: You have to learn a new skill. Do you prefer to read about it, watch someone else do it, hear someone describe it, or try it yourself?
As I explore this topic, I realize I take multiple approaches to learning a new skill. At the highest level, my approach looks something like:
- Understand the context
- Gain a baseline understanding
Understanding the Context
How will I use this skill? Will this be something that I need in order to perform my job, is this a hobby that will further a general interest, or is this skill something that’s required for me to solve an immediate problem (like fixing a plumbing problem)? Answering this question provides context regarding urgency and acceptable level of proficiency.
Gain a Baseline Understanding
In all cases, my preferred method of learning begins with reading. I like to have a baseline level of understanding before I interact with others, or attempt to use a skill. I might talk to others to gain their perspective or insight at this stage, but that depends upon the specific skill I’m trying to learn.
Now that I understand the context of why I’m acquiring the skill, and have some knowledge of what the skill entails, I begin what I’m calling the practice stage. This is when I start to try and apply the new skill. This usually begins with me trying to perform this skill. If I’m successful that might be all that it takes to learn it. However, if I run into trouble and need additional understanding to develop the skill, I frequently will reach out to others to learn more. This might include a conversation, an email, or watching something perform the task (live or on video).
To demonstrate this framework, here is an overview of how I learned to convert between base number systems:
The context of learning this skill is two-fold. I am currently taking courses at a local university to develop a deeper understanding of computer science and programming. The ability to convert between decimal and binary, for example, was required for a math class that I was taking, and also will further my understanding of how computers work.
In gaining the baseline understanding, I read through the course materials and watched an online video. I worked through a couple of examples in preparation for class to deepen my understanding. During class I watched and listened to the professor work examples.
Following class, I worked through many problems, actively applying this skill. At first, I used course notes and an online video to help me when I ran into trouble, but after a few problems the ability to convert between number systems was learned.
Each of these stages might last minutes, days, weeks, months, years, or a lifetime depending upon the skill.
How do you learn? What techniques do you find most valuable?