April 13, 2011

Rapid Learning

Filed under: 20-minute,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:05 pm
Tags: ,


Back in the mid-late 90s I stumbled across and the Troubleshooting Professional online magazine. It’s a somewhat odd place, an entire site dedicated to troubleshooting and discussing the ten-step Universal Troubleshooting Process. I sometimes point young programmers to the universal troubleshooting process, becaue having instructions to follow means you don’t cut corners. You can zero in on your problem faster without floundering around and wasting time.

Steve Litt, creator of the troubleshooting process, also created a “rapid learning” system. This boils down to building a lexicon of terms and concepts about whatever it is you’re learning about, build demo systems, and apply the troubleshooting process when your demo systems don’t do what you expect. It’s applicable to all sorts of technical systems, from learning to configure your Postgresql database to absorbing the iOS location and motion APIs.

I know how I learn best, and that’s “eyes to hands to eyes”. Back in college I copied my class notes at the end of every day. I had my scribbly class notebook, and my neater real notebook. I got rid of the scribbled notes after they got transferred to the neater book. Not only did my class notes turn into something legible (my normal handwriting has a half-life of about four hours), but by reading the class notes, writing them down, and then reading them again, it cemented the concepts.

Back when I was studying for my Oracle DBA certification, I would read the materials, type the information into a text document, then read it again, the information stuck. Plus it gave me a pile of text I could go back and search through if needed.

Nowadays I follow a process similar to the Rapid Learning system. Say I’m wanting to learn about the Apple keychain API. I use VoodooPad as a repository of notes.  I watch WWDC sessions and transcribe the slides. That eyes to hands to eyes thing again. I read the API docs and build a lexicon of terms and meanings. This consolidates the necessary information into one place, where in the docs the core information is usually scattered amongst a lot of pages. I also note important calls that I’ll be using or writing about. This keeps all the information in one easy-to-find place, easily searchable later.  Plus with VoodooPad’s handy page linking I can push ancillary information off into another page. It’s there if I need it but out of my face if I don’t. Then I build some projects and figure out why they don’t work. Before I know it, I’ve mastered a new technology.

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