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Sometimes it takes a second look to learn something.

Ain’t that the truth?

I tried to learn jQuery by myself several months ago from Code School, to no success. This post is a reflection and lessons learnt on my learning journey.

Skill Acquisition

When I want to learn something, my tendency had always been to be informed as much as possible before doing it. I will get books, read articles, watch tutorials, and every other things save for actually doing it. This is called PROCRASTINATION. It’s not the conventional way of thinking about procrastination, but it is the same concept nevertheless.

I went through the lessons from Code School, going through all their modules for jQuery. In the beginning I was fine, pretty simple stuff. However as the course progress, I started getting overwhelmed. Information overload. The reason for this is because our brain is somewhat a limited resources. You can only focus on a limited number of things at one point. When you are learning a new concept, you have to consciously think about many aspects of the skills. If you don’t internalize each concept so that it is already a part of your subconscious mind, at some point you will get overwhelmed – and trust me, it doesn’t take much to get overwhelmed.

A New Concept for Learning

So what if we change the concept a little bit?

I remember reading the book by Josh Kaufmann (author of Personal MBA) called The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…FastAlthough I didn’t think it was a good book, one concept stuck with me: do an iterative approach on learning. Kaufmann suggested to pick 3 resources, and skim them to find a pattern. Which keywords or concept got repeated over and over across your 3 resources, and learn that. Once you learn a concept, find a small project to quickly apply your newly acquired knowledge.

One of a more recent discovery in the field of Neuroscience is the idea of neuroplasticity of the brain. I am by no mean an expert in neuroscience, so forgive me if I butcher this explanation. The idea of neuroplasticity is basically explaining how the brain will adapt to the information that you provide to it. Think of the neural networks in your brain is like farm full of bushes. The first time you want to learn something, think of it like you are trying to get across the farm, stepping on the bush. It is going to be difficult to get across because there is no path to guide you. But as you go back and forth a lot, the places where you step on will become a path, making it easier to get across. This is the same concept when you are learning new skill. As you practice the skill, it will strengthen the neural path in your brain, making it easier for you to apply the skill.

Therefore, don’t procrastinate on applying your new knowledge, no matter how trivial you think it is. Learn small increments and apply it right away. Don’t procrastinate by learning everything before taking any action. You will be amazed at how quickly you will learn. The second time I learned jQuery through Thinkful program forced me to apply this technique. Sure enough, it worked!


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