4 min read

What’s the best way to learn?

This is a question that’s been plaguing people for centuries. Currently educationalists and publishers are the ones responsible for the troublesome waters of this age-old problem, but it’s worth remembering it’s nothing new. What’s more, this question is bound up with technological development – just as the Gutenberg printing press made knowledge more accessible and shareable, changing the way people learn, back in the 15th century, many saw it as something satanic, its ability to reproduce identical copies of text regarded as witchcraft.

Today, witchcraft is something we can only dream of – we’re all searching for the next Gutenberg Press, trying to find the best way to reconfigure and package the expansive and disorienting effects of the internet into something that is simple, accessible and ‘sticky’ (we really need a better word). But in all this effort to find the solution to our problems we keep forgetting that there’s no single answer – what we really want are options. The metaphor ‘tailor-made’ is perhaps a little misleading – when you buy a tailor made suit, it has been created to fit you. But we can’t think of learning like that. However tempting it is to say ‘I’m a visual learner’, it’s never entirely true. It depends on what you’re learning, what mood you’re in, how you’re approaching a topic and a whole range of other reasons.

When it comes to software and tech, the different ways in which we might want to learn are more pronounced. Some days we might really want to watch a video tutorial to see code in action; maybe ‘visual learners’ will most appreciate video courses, but even those that favour a classic textbook sometimes want to be shown rather than told what to do. Similarly, if we know we need a comprehensive journey through a new idea, a new technology then we might invest in a course (if you can’t convince your boss to cough up the cash, that is…). In particular, in terms of strategic and leadership skills, people are still willing to invest big money to undergo training, even in an age of online courses and immediate information – indeed, these face-to-face, ‘irl’ courses are more important than ever before.

But we also know that a book is a reliable resource that you can constantly return to. You can navigate it however you like – read it from back to front, start in the middle, tear out the pages and stick them on your ceiling so you can read them while you’re lying down – the choice is yours. But what about eBooks? True, you probably shouldn’t stick it to your ceiling, but you can still navigate it, annotate it, and share snippets on social media. You can also carry loads of them around – so if, like me, you’re indecisive, you can remain confident that an entire library of books is safe in your bag should you ever need one – whether you need a quick programming solution or an amusing anecdote.

But even then, that’s not the end of it. ‘Learning’ is often seen as a very specific thing. It sounds like LinkedIn wisdom, but it’s true that learning happens everywhere – from the quick blogs that give you an insight on what’s important to the weighty tomes that contain everything you need to know about Node.js Design Patterns and using Python to build machine learning models.

Today, then, it’s all about navigating these different ways of learning. It’s about being aware of what’s important and making sure you’re using the resources that are going to help you not only solve a problem or get the job done, but also to think better and to become more creative. There’s no one ‘right way’ to learn – smart learners are always open to new experiences and are medium agnostic. 

If you don’t know where to start download and read our free Skill Up Year in Review report. Covering the trends that defined tech in 2015, it also looks ahead to the future, providing you with a useful learning roadmap.

Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.


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