Learning how I Learn: s l o w l y

Part 1: My brain hurts

A big chunk of my journey back towards technology is learning, and learning how to learn.

In school and at university (for those that went) you are kind of carried along, without having to think about the methods that others and you yourself use to get knowledge and understanding into your head.

Self-study is a lonely and very conscious endeavour. Nothing happens unless I make the time, space and really apply myself. I mean *really* apply and crank up parts of the brain that have all but seized up.

In my professional life I use my head all the time to solve problems, communicate, resolve conflicts, and, yes even learn. But the learning is nearly always on-the-job, which is to say you absorb by doing, by observing, and anticipating and monitoring. No one ever really tells you what the principles are, you have to work them out. I make heavy use of outside support articles and forums for point problems/solutions, but I never get the time for actual study or deeper understanding.

Now it’s the opposite. I am learning completely new frameworks from scratch and then trying to build some practise,  experience and use-cases on top, without people to follow. I am vey much more conscious now of what kind of learning activity works for me, and even how it works.

For example, I realise that how fast I can learn seems to be limited by the following factors:

  • My mental capacity to learn, take on, assimilate and retain new concepts,
  • The time and application to reinforce new concepts through practice.


Mental Capacity: This is getting slowly better as my brain gets fitter, but as I study something new from an ebook, or from online videos, there comes a point after 30 -60 minutes when I hit some resistance. This is not to say that everything before that, or that nothing afterwards, is understood, but there is an definite bump when I hit it. I just have to switch to a different activity for a while before I can return and carry on.

In terms of reinforcement, I can get stimulated about things I learn but they fade quickly if they are not used for practise, or to build upon in more advanced subjects. Clearly a lot of understanding comes from trying out techniques or testing against newly learned concepts. This is the whole point of learning, but it is slow and I often find myself itching to get back to the pure study itself.

With so very, very much to learn and limited time to give to my study, these two factors frustrate me. They exist irrespective of the actual learning media – I mix it up with reading books, websites, blogs, both free and subscription e-learning videos and study tools. It’s the equipment between my ears that is more of a concern.

Even at twice the capacity to learn and twice the time spent bedding it in, I would probably still hit some limits. The answer is perhaps that I should not let these limits be limiting. What I mean is that I should make the most of the capacity and the results I get to achieve my goals?

However much I learn I will need to be immersed in it to retain and make new connections, and develop any kind of automatic, muscle memory. For now I have to do it the hard way.

That said, when I look back to September (2012) I have learned a hell of a lot in a relatively short amount of time.

Part 2: Fight it or roll with it?

As I learn, by any method, there comes a point where fatigue sets in, and the absorption of new ideas or material, or making connections is, initially a conscious effort, and then a burden and then it just isn’t really effective anymore. My mind will find distractions, or just switch into a low power mode and threaten to take my body with it. Is this a hard limit? can I push through this? is there a benefit to pushing through it. What if, even though I am not in prime learning zone any more, somehow there is still a benefit to forcing myself to study past this barrier.  Are there some subliminal patterns being formed, even though my conscious brain wants to stop. What if I do take a break and come back to it? Does it means all the time I actually spend studying is better quality (assuming that I do recover) than if I studies straight through?.

What if I take artificial stimulants to push through? Hmmm,  my brain may be AWAKE but is there any quality of learning going on or is it just an illusion of wakefulness. Maybe I should just give in to the doze at these times.

I am finding that, as time goes on in my UoD study, I am much more conscious of my learning process. Perhaps I will see improvements through building up my mental stamina. But are there natural phenomena here that I simply cannot overcome, or should just ignore? Can i do specific mental exercises to build up my alertness?

24 hours sounds like such a long time, but when sleep, cooking, eating, family and domestic responsibilities are done, there ain’t a lot of good study time left. I don’t want to lose too much to being brain-dead.



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