4 tips on how to organize the learning process

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The learning process is a never-ending journey

I think that we all know how important it is to keep learning process organized instead of just spiraling down from resource to resource. In this post, I want to share a few tips and techniques, which I hope will be helpful for you as well. Even simple goals can be split into smaller ones to make our plans less abstract. This is important because of two things — first, our roadmap should be flexible, and big, monolithic strategies are not — and the second point is that big distant goal is not clear enough to give us enough motivation.

The less clear our plan is, the higher the probability that we will not be able to stick to it day by day.

Anything unexpected can happen, that will break your daily routine, and you will quickly resign from working towards your goal if it will be too distant or too abstract — so split big distant goals into smaller ones.

The truth is that we cannot predict the future and we do not know what we will be thinking or how circumstances around us are going to look like in a few months, or even in a few weeks from now. The process often looks like this – you decide to learn a new language, or you choose to commit yourself to working out this year. You start by watching some tutorials, reading recommended book or by going to run for 15 minutes to the nearest park. At this moment you have some basic orientation about the direction you should follow to reach this big, distant goal but nothing more.

Cumbria 4 tips on how to organize the learning process 1 Consulting Services & Web Development
Soria Moria by Theodor Kittelsen (1881)

Like on the painting above, you can see the golden castle at the horizon on top of the mountains far away from you, and you know very well where you’re standing now, but who knows what’s down below in the valley — everything down there is covered in a fog. So that is the symbolic road to your goal and it doesn’t seem encouraging, doesn’t it? You cannot plan the whole route before you leave and there is no way to know if you will need to cross the river or go through a desert or climb or run.

However, if you will be watching carefully, you will be able to see small sign posts that will guide you in a good direction. You don’t know them now —  nor you have even the slightest idea about where to look for them — you just need to watch for them all the time.

Those signs are milestones that are splitting long road into smaller parts. The moments when you realize that you see them are also the convenient points to stop for a moment and reflect about your road. Do you still feel that your goal is worth achieving? What did you learn so far? Summing up your newly acquired knowledge, how do you think, which way through the foggy valley will be shortest or most pleasurable or most rewarding for you? You can only try to take a guess and keep learning.

That is why we must account for the unexpected in our learning plans or when we want to transform our lives by forming some new habit. Our plan must be a flexible one, built from small, clear goals. Small tasks are easy to adjust, and when they are clear for you, you will effortlessly find the motivation to accomplish them day by day.

Also, on the contrary, when you meet some obstacles on your road, and be sure of that – you will,  the big, complex tasks can quickly turn into chaos. Maybe you will even notice that you are acting without any plan more often that you would like to admit. Moreover, if your task will not be clear for you, then any excuse will be good enough, to postpone or ignore it. It is hard to do something new, and it is even more difficult to do something new that seems to be abstract and hard to imagine. Take your time to define right tasks for yourself that do not overwhelm you. It is essential to precisely recognize what must be done to consider given task finished.

When we are learning, what counts most is being able to follow with our plan for a long time, so small, flexible milestones that give us immediate feedback and are leaving us with satisfaction are more reliable than depending on willpower.

Ok, why do I write about all those things if my intention is just to describe a few techniques that I find useful when I start to learn something new? Probably I should just write „Check out those four methods to organize your learning process, which I wish I had known years ago” and then proceed with pointing them out, but in this case, I feel that a short introduction was essential.

Trello Boards

Divide your big goal into smaller tasks so that you can track your progress all the time.

Cumbria 4 tips on how to organize the learning process 2 Consulting Services & Web Development
Trello Board

On your boards, you can create columns like for example:

  1. All things I want to do
  2. Tasks in progress
  3. Finished tasks
  4. Everyday and recurring tasks

or:

  1. All ideas
  2. Planning
  3. Developing
  4. Testing
  5. Done

alternatively, if you think that browser bookmarks are not the best solution when it comes to keeping track of things that you want to read later, you can create another Trello board and use it like this:

  1. All materials (Just keep adding interesting tutorials, articles, links, books to this column as cards. You can also add appropriate tags to any card.)
  2. In progress (Drag card from “All materials” here if you started to work with it)
  3. Finished (Drag card from “In progress”, when you have done your work with given material)

Flashcards

It can also be a good idea to use flashcards to stop forgetting about important things that you have learned (you can also set recurring cards in Trello using a plugin like Card Repeater but this is not exactly the same thing as flashcard). There are a lot of apps and websites that offer this functionality. The idea is to write a card with some brief information that you want to remember, and you should be reminded about this in a few days.

Have a place to write down ideas

Create a separate place in Trello or your notebook, where you will be able to immediately write down ideas for projects or activities that utilize the knowledge that you have gained that day. When something crosses your mind, just write it down quickly before you forget it. When you have some spare moment, you will have a list of interesting things to do or to create to extend your understanding of some topic. By the way, have you ever heard of a Bullet Journal?

Don’t break the chain

Persistence is so important when we want to learn anything. If you have continuous, unbroken chain of 10, 20, 30 days during which you have succeeded with sticking to your new habit, you will more likely hold to it for another one. Mark with a green color every single day in your calendar, during which you have done anything to be closer to your goal and keep it in a visible place.

If you combine those things, you can get a very intensive, well-organized learning experience that is trackable and filled with satisfaction gained from being able to achieve small, daily tasks. Even if you struggle with some frustrating problem for many days — you have still tried to solve it — mark this day in your calendar with green because you did not break the chain. Even if you are tired of attempting to resolve some hindrance, you have a list of ideas that you can start working on to regain the momentum.

So if we look again at Theodor Kittelsens painting — our goal is a golden castle at the horizon. The foggy valley is the learning process that we have only partial control of, the obstacles, failures, and victories that we will face down below on our journey are the moments that are giving us reflection about our road and idea how we should adjust our plan to make it even more efficient.

What now?

Time to turn “just another day” into “day one.” Decide which tools or techniques will be most efficient and create (the initial version) of the system that will help you later on the road. Pick things that are worth packing to your backpack.

I hope that you will find some of those ideas useful, I am sharing them because they were useful for me.

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Paweł Targoński

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