There are many ways to learn. Attending a presentation or live webcast is great because you get what I call “condensed knowledge”. You get the results of someone else spending thirty to forty hours of learning and working to condense it into a one to two hour presentation. You also get immediate feedback, you can interact with the presenter and ask questions. On the downside, if you missed something, you missed it (unless the presentation is recorded). These are great for getting an overview, however you won’t really get deep technical understanding out of a presentation like this.
The next step beyond a live presentation is a recorded webcast or video, such as those produced by DNRTV. These are great because you can pause them, rewind, and listen multiple times. However, you lose the ability to get immediate feedback from the presenter, and like live presentations it’s condensed knowledge.
Online reading is the next area available to us for learning. Blogs, MSDN, TechNet, etc. These have a much deeper level of information than previously mentioned formats. Plus they tend to be updated as changes are made. However, there do tend to be some limitations. Content is not quite as polished as a book as often it does not go through professional editors. Also, while the content will be more in depth than a presentation, it will still be limited in scope. It will be rare to find the equivalent of a book given out for free in a blog. Most of the time it will be equivalent to a really long magazine article.
This then, brings us to good old fashioned books. For true topical mastery, there’s nothing like a good thick book filled with code examples for learning. Some pundits are already predicting the death of the print book. However, in my opinion print is simply a medium. Books could be read online, or downloaded to something like a Kindle. Whatever the form, it’s still an in depth presentation of content.
So does this mean you should favor books over other forms of learning? Absolutely not. If you recall yesterday’s post, I mentioned being able to keep up your base. Podcasts, webcasts, user groups, and blogs can be great ways of doing just that, while using books for honing your expert skills in some topic.
Deciding on a delivery mechanism for your learning is the first step. Now you need to decide the process. Learning is a gradual process. It takes learning a little something every day for it to take hold. Even as little as 20 minutes a day can rapidly bring your understanding up to new levels. Avoid cramming, cramming works for short term but studies show long term retention is not good. For ultimate learning, start with a goal. Decide what you want to know. Then gather the materials you’ll need: books, articles, manuals, blogs, etc. Next, schedule the time. As I mentioned you want at least 20 minutes a day devoted to learning. Turn off your e-mail, close your twitter, turn off the radio, close the home office door, and focus on the material.
Practice what you read as well. Type in the code samples, run them, debug them, step through the code line by line. Make changes and see how it affects the flow of the code. Find the patterns and practices for your environment and try them out.
Using an iterative process you will soon be on your way to expert level knowledge.