Learning anything

Just consuming materials is not enough

Learning anything is not easy. It takes time and mental effort.

The Internet would like you to believe that it’s not that hard. You can “learn” anything in 15 minutes. There’s a lot of materials build around that. Just read thing one article or maybe a book and you will know it. It’s so enticing.

Of course, you can read about something in a matter of minutes/hours/days. There’s plenty of materials for almost any topic you can imagine. And more of them are created every day.

Articles, tutorials, webinars, video courses, online courses. A lot of options.

Some of them are better than others. Some of them will work for different people. And if you have an option of doing some exercises along the way, it will help a bit.

Yet, just reading about a topic, or watching it, or even doing exercises, is not enough. You will have a feeling that now you know it, but it’s a mirage.

Consuming all resources are only the prelude for the actual learning to happen. Just knowing how something works from reading or watching is not enough.

Or stated differently, it’s enough if your goal is to impress your friends and colleagues with how much you know. If that’s your goal, then great, continue doing it. That’s not real learning is all about.

What matters is if you can build something with that knowledge. If you do, then you can claim that you learn it.

Real learning is a result of creating with new knowledge. Your feeling that you know something confronts the hard reality of trying to apply it in practice.

Your approach to finding a solution needs to adjust. It needs to take into account any new possibilities provided by the new knowledge. Also, it needs to take into the account any new constraints. Every knowledge provides both of them. One thing becomes easy but other is harder. That tradeoff if inherent in anything. There’s no silver bullet to solve everything.

What’s important is being able to internalize that knowledge. Your thinking should happen in the confinements of it. You should be able to visualize all the possible solutions and choose the best one. Or sometimes to just find that one and only which is possible in a given situation.

The real practitioners are able to find the best solution intuitively, to just happen to know the correct one. That’s something which you can get, but it requires time and sweat. Just reading about something is not enough. It doesn’t give you the right though patterns and a cache of past solutions draw on. You need that to be efficient and to claim to actually know something.

To achieve all that you need to use the technology to build something. Only when trying, and failing to apply a piece of theory to a problem at hand, you will understand how it works. You will have a first-hand experience if given approach is any good. If it works as intended or not. Maybe there are surprises, something missing from all those articles you read.

The tradeoffs will become obvious. Your understanding will become more nuanced. You will struggle but that’s OK. That’s part of the learning.

Only by using that knowledge a lot you can actually master it. That’s the ultimate goal. To develop our understanding to the point where we know it on a gut level. We can rely on it whenever we encounter a new problem. Mastering it helps us to get to our goals faster and with the better outcome. It becomes part of us, internalized.