Blogging For Learning

In this blog I would like to share my story of why I started blogging and why I am still doing this. I have being working as software engineer for 10+ years and always considered writing blogs as a waste of time. It is not that I didn't want to have one. I just had strong feeling that a better way of spending my time and energy would be to learn from other people, not sharing my experience with them. So I continued polishing my skills via doing online courses, reading other people's blogs and so on. I could not have been more wrong.

How people learn

People are wired in a funny way, such that learning of a subject happens in steps. Below I briefly described these steps to give you an idea. If you want to learn more, take course Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects on Coursera. The course is simple and very powerful, no wonder it is one of the most popular courses on Coursera. But let's come back to learning steps.

Focusing

Our learning starts with focusing on a topic we want to master. It is very important to concentrate on the topic and not to be distracted by other stuff while learning. While comprehending topic ideas, we keep chunks (pieces) of new information on the topic and chunks of knowledge we already have (our past experience) in focus together so that we could make sense of new information in the context of existing knowledge.

According to recent neurological research, people can keep 4 chunks of loosely connected information in focus at the same time. Distractions consume these valuable slots and limit our cognitive capabilities.

Understanding

Understanding occurs when we manage to fit a new piece of information into our existing knowledge, like a piece of a puzzle into a bigger picture. This is a pivotal point in learning process, because some people think that they got it and stop there. I fell into that trap myself many times. If we stop learning there, we will be surprised to find out that the understanding fades out in a week time.

The problem with freshly learned subject is our memory will ditch it if we do not use it. Remember what happened when you tried to grasp a new subject one night before exam, and you will see what I mean.

Recalling

Our memory utilises a simple method to determine which knowledge has to be retained and which can pass away. If we use what we have learned, it will be kept; otherwise memory will allow it to fade away. So it is very important to start applying what we have learned in practice repeatedly.

What if we learned a topic, and cannot apply it right away (due to million of different reasons)? This is where recalling comes to rescue. Recent research demonstrated that just trying to recall what we have learned is counted by our memory as using it.

There is a catch, multiple recallings during one day will not help much. We have to recall the topic during extended period of time. Suppose you learned something on Mon. A recommended schedule would be to recall the information details on Mon, Tue, Wen, Fri and Sun. This technique will allow you to solidify knowledge.

Story does not end here if you really want to master it.

Explaining to other people

And here we come to the reason why I blog. People do deeply understand subject only when they can explain it clearly to somebody else. Remember a moment in your life when you started explaining something you were sure about to a colleague or a friend and caught yourself in the middle of explanation that you were not sure about it anymore.

This happens because quite often our knowledge of subject is kept in memory non-verbalised as intuitive understanding. During explanation we convert that intuitive understanding into verbal form and this is when hidden mismatching pieces start to stick out.

During verbalisation we test and polish our understanding. The more we explain a subject, the deeper we comprehend it.

How to start blogging

When I made a firm decision to create a blog, I had not had blogging experience. The challenge looked unsurmountable. Additionally I was afraid to share my ideas thinking that people could get impression that I did not know the subject well enough to blog about it.

Looking back in retrospective, it was not as difficult. I took a free email course How To Build A Blog That Will Boost Your Career from John Sonmez (he is famous for his blog http://simpleprogrammer.com) and in about a month I grasped basics of how to blog regularly not spending much time on it.

The bottom line

Sharing ideas with other people on subject you want to learn is one of the best ways to actually master it. Blogging, presenting ideas to colleagues and friends as well as presenting on conferences can help you to become a true expert.

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