Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Continuous Learning

Learning continuously is imperative. Software professionals are in a field that is constantly changing. In order to provide effective solutions for clients we must keep up with changes in technology. Our learning must continue beyond university education.

However, due to work and personal commitments, many professionals may not be able to attend formal classes once they start working. We are fortunate to have the Internet at our disposal. It is a wonderful medium for sharing and gaining knowledge. Educational material on the Internet allows people to learn at a time and pace that is convinient to them. It enables people to adopt a principle of "continuous education".

Because a teacher is not present in front of us when we use the Internet as a learning medium, it is easy to stray away from the main topic. At times grasping a concept may be difficult because we cannot ask doubts to a teacher in real time. However these minor disadvantages are not very difficult to overcome. All that is needed is some discipline and lots of motivation.

These tips will help you become a better self learner:

  1. Make time for learning everyday. Even if you are extremely busy, make sure you dedicate at least 10 minutes of your day to learn something new. Ten minutes will not hurt, even in a very busy schedule, but they will go a long way in maintaining a continuous learning schedule.
  2. Do not get distracted by work or coworkers when learning.
  3. Adopt the practice of active learning. Do not simply read or listen to the material. Think about what the author is saying. Question the content and the assumptions. Make a note of your questions and first try to answer them yourself. This will promote analytical thinking. If you cannot answer the question, try to search for an answer on the Internet. If you still do not find a satisfactory answer, then post your question on an appropriate bulletin board.
  4. Answer other people's questions. Answering questions is also a very good way of learning. When you answer a question, you revise the concepts that you already know. The process of answering makes you think about a concept from a different perspective, increasing the depth of your knowledge.
  5. Write regularly. Writing is a very effective way of learning. You will be surprised at the results you achieve by devoting just 5 minutes to writing, everyday.
  6. Teach. Teaching is also a great way of learning. When you teach you again revise your knowledge. When students ask questions, very often you will think about things that had not occured to you earlier. Sometimes you may not know the answer to a particular question, in which case you might have to do reasearch to find the right answer. This process will increase the depth and clarity of your knowledge.
The Internet is replete with free learning resources. In fact there are resources to suit individual learning styles. For people who prefer reading there are articles, newsletters, and blogs. For those who prefer listening or a visual experience, there are podcasts, and vidcasts. Many people have also created excellent learning experiences with animations.

For discussing concepts and answering queries, there are mailing lists and bulletin boards. If you still miss real time interaction, you can start a study group with friends and colleagues.

I hope this post has prompted you to start the journey of conituous learning. I will post relevant resources in a future post.

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