The only way to master a subject is by practicing it enough. Reading a book is fine, but it’s only when you try what you read in real situations that long term memory and experience are built. Without practicing you only have theory, which is easy to forget and generally not very useful in real life.
Depending on your field, there are many ways you can practice what you learn. For example a designer might try different color combinations on different textures, a programmer might write a series of programs in a new programming language, or an internet marketer might test new conversion techniques that she just read on a book to see if they really works. Opportunities to practice your skills are certainly not missing, yet sometimes we ignore the practical side and focus exclusively on theory.
Learning through blogging
I’ve been using blogs as a learning tool for several years now, and I believe they’re one of the best tools for learning. If used correctly, a blog will force you to put more effort in your material and to think about what you’re doing. Not only that, but a blog is also a social tool, thus you are constantly receiving feedback from other people who may already know the subject you’re learning.
The advantages of using a blog as a learning tool are many, and I’ve tried to summarize some them in the following list:
- It’s a dump of your knowledge. A blog is a perfect example of how to keep track of what you learn. You can write the key points of what you learned today, and revisit them after one month or after one year. Another advantage of using a blog over just using personal notes is that your knowledge will be public. By publishing your knowledge online you are sharing it with everyone else.
- It forces you to ask questions, and thus to expand your knowledge. When you are learning by doing, you will encounter difficulties and concepts that were not obvious at first. When you write down your thoughts you will be addressing those concerns, offering solutions and tips to your readers, and you will also have the opportunity to expand the topic. For example if you learn how to create a menu in html and css, you could then create 10 different versions and post them online.
- It gives you motivation. Two years ago I started reading one of the most challenging books on computer science, SICP. This book is not only huge, but it’s also full of exercises where you can practice what you learned. I figured that the only way I’d be motivated to go through all the exercises was to blog about it, so I created a special section on my old website where I posted my solutions to the exercises. Not all of them were correct, and I did skip the last chapter, but having a blog gave me the motivation to continue despite the difficulties.
- It shows what you’re able to do. When you’re just learning a subject you don’t want to show the world your mistakes right? So what’s the point of blogging about it? Because it shows that you’re a real person, and that you are willing to expand and improve your knowledge. Nobody expects you to be an expert when you are first starting out, but the effort you’re taking is appreciated and will eventually pay off. It’s not uncommon to hear of people who got a job doing what they love thanks to blogging.
Blogging is cheap, and you can open a blog for free and tell nobody about it, but I recommend that you build an identity around it. I’m not saying that you should spend time marketing it, but that you should be proud of it when other people will visit it.
What to write depends on the subject. Many books have exercises, so why not doing them online? If exercises are not available, try to expand on the key points. If the book tells you do something in one way, try the opposite and write down the difference, understand why you do it that way. Think outside of the box and try all the possibilities.
It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to learn, you can always use blogging as a tool for reinforcing your learning experience. It will take more time than just reading a book, but the results will be worth the time spent.