3 Pillars of Learning
Planted July 30, 2020
I’ve been doing some more reflecting about learning recently (see previous reflections here and here). As I was formulating these thoughts I realised that I find three things in particular helpful for me on my learning journeys.
I take a lot of these journeys and I want to keep on taking them. I also want them to be as useful and as transformative as they can be.
Here are my three pillars of learning.
Learning in the open
I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last, to say that learning in public is a really valuable experience (see here and here to start). When I joined up with egghead at the start of this year, I felt like I’d found a community of people who were dedicated to learning. Not just in creating content for others to learn but people who saw the importance of learning for its own sake.
One way I’ve started to hold myself accountable to learning in public is through the Twitter hash-tag #100DaysOfProjects. This was set up by Ceora and has been really helpful for me to feel accountable to make progress on my projects.
I have a lot of projects and having a short check-in that is public is really helpful for me. I’m finding that the check-ins I’m making are quite generic though and wondering about more interesting and useful ways to contribute.
Like others, I think I’m nervous about sharing my learning because it feels embarrassing. Thoughts such as, “Surely everyone knew that” or “I’m so stupid” feel vulnerable and exposing. The reality is probably different and, even if it isn’t, someone being able to see that I’m learning ‘basics’ might give encouragement for others to keep going where they otherwise wouldn’t.
Learning as part of a group
For me though, learning in public can feel kind of lonely. I also get nervous that it feels kind of self-indulgent - why would anyone be interested in my learnings? Sometimes people are interested in my learning journey for its own sake but I find it much more helpful to learn as part of a group. Finally, I find that I get distracted and jump from learning topics if I’m not travelling with other people. Learning with others helps to keep me on track and keeps me excited about learning projects for longer.
I love Dungeons and Dragons (I’m also looking for a new group to play in, so any offers or openings let me know - DM’ing or PC’ing!). I’ve been playing a lot of RPG games with my boys during lockdown and been thinking a lot of how it relates to learning.
Forming an adventuring party to complete a task, solve a murder or rescue a child is a lot of fun. Once you’ve completed the adventure, you might return to the inn and find a new group or keep going with your same group. This series of adventures are generally called campaigns - characters can come and go but while together work towards a common goal.
One of the ways that this has already been playing out for me has been book groups. The number of these that I am in is steadily rising! These feel like learning D&D adventures.
One group I’m a part of has almost finished our exploration of ‘Seven Languages in Seven Weeks’. We read the chapter, try to do the exercises and take an hour each week to discuss it together.
This group might read another book together or might disperse entirely. It makes sense for groups to form round a shared goal and disperse when that has been achieved. 7 weeks with up to 7 people feels like a reasonable upper limit to keep the commitment level low and the conversation level high!
Sales Safari experience
Last night, I watched a recording of a Sales Safari workshop with 5 excellent humans. We watched the workshop, did the exercises and discussed what we were hearing.
This was great! I learnt loads, both from the content and the group. This could be a ‘one-shot’ adventure but the group felt great so we might look for another ‘adventure’ to complete together.
Clojure is one of the languages we looked at in our book group. One of the things we’ve been thinking about and exploring has been the communtities that grow around languages. How welcoming a language feels to outsiders and how proactive they are in onboarding people of all backgrounds is really important to me.
Clojure is very different from any language that I’ve written in before and the community seems really interesting. During our book club discussion we found out about ClojureFam, a guided learning experience of at least 5 weeks, and a number of us are going to embark on this. Another different adventuring experience.
Slack and Discord communities
To continue the D&D metaphor - between adventures, people generally hang out in taverns and inns. There they hear about trolls or necromancers and decide to set out for fame and fortune.
Where are the inns for learning adventure groups? I’m part of a number of Slack and Discord communities and these are my taverns. These are the places I find people who want to learn and who want to set out on adventures with me.
I’m still learning how to do this well but I’m excited about it.
Creating as part of a learning experience
For me, this is the third pillar of learning - creating as a demonstration of learning, adding to the conversation, helping others and pushing my own understanding deeper.
Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye wrote an excellent book called “Apprenticeship Patterns”. I love this book as it reminds me of different ways to make my own learning more meaningful by using and developing a Pattern Language. I revisit it regularly when I feel my learning has plateaued.
One of the patterns is breakable toys. The context is that experience (learning) is built on failure as much as success. So, in building something we learn more.
Having smaller projects to learn with can feel less risky. You can learn in a sandboxed environment. This is why you’ll often here more experienced developers tell newer folks to build something.
Colby is gathering some excellent ideas for breakable toys for front-end people over here. I love me a breakable toy :)
Blogging and Content Creation
Ian mentioned at our last book group that you learn more from writing the book than reading it.
That’s why I blog and make videos. I want my learning to be deep and long-lasting. I want to help others and I want to solve problems.
Embarking on your own quests
I think that learning adventures as I’ve tried to describe them above can be transformative. Joel goes even farther than that!
What you should expect?
Not all learning parties, journeys or adventures are created equally. Sometimes conversation will fall flat and others it will flow naturally. One week the insights will stack on top of each other and another you’ll be digging hard for a nugget. A group might last for a single workshop or still be battling learning demons 10 years from now.
Like any cooperative activity people matter and you can help by arriving with realistic expectations, being prepared and having engaged with the material (if there is pre-work!). I was really impacted by Joshua Kerievsky paper called Knowledge Hydrants which aims to lend a pattern language to study groups. For newer groups, there are worse things to adventure with than this paper.
What should you pack for the journey?
Learning is an iterative process. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do something. Write some code or an article, draw some diagrams or make some connections. Have an open mind to the connections and relationships that might grow out of these adventuring parties. You could find your next friend, business partner or spouse while you’re not looking.
Where should you look for fellow travellers?
I’ve mentioned some places to look for fellow adventurers already. ClojureFam, Kent C. Dodds cohorts, book groups and other online communities you are a part of. There is likely to be an element of pro-activeness. If you want to read something or dive deeper, set up a book group, shout out on Twitter or to some of your friends. Reading a chapter or two, meeting for an hour and connecting is powerful for learning and good for our souls too.
I send out an occasional newsletter. Sign up below and, if you need some help finding a learning group, I can see if I can help.