Learning How To Learn: Motivation, Discipline and Embracing Challenges

One of the most notable aspects of studying IT so far has been the stark contrast in how I’ve had to learn in contrast to my previous study experiences in education and Humanities subjects. Studying at a tertiary level is not a new experience for me. Having previously completed a Bachelors with Honors and made it partway through a Masters degree in Teaching, the ability to study and to learn new material is not a new experience for me. Or so I thought, going into the beginning of the year. Perhaps the biggest change from previous subjects I’ve studied has been moving from a relatively passive form of learning, which involved a lot of reading, listening to lectures and passively absorbing information to a much more hands-on form of learning.

By nature, learning IT skills is a hands-on exercise. It involves learning how to operate software, put together code, construct programs. These are not tasks that can be learned just by reading a book or taking notes. It involves diving in and becoming familiar with unfamiliar processes. With this comes a lot of trial and error, experimentation, and inevitably, moments of getting stuck and feeling frustrated. For a newcomer, it can be a rude awakening. Developing resilience to failure and setbacks (and there have been a lot of them!) is probably the most important thing I’ve taken away from my courses so far this year.

Part of the solution to this dilemma is to become immersed in the subject. My course subjects, rather than being the sum of my learning, is only a starting point. Much of my spare time has been devoted to covering knowledge gaps, as well as learning particular areas of IT that have been particularly interesting more in-depth. In my case, this has been anything related to data, analytics and business intelligence. Thinking less about the outcome (finishing the course, exams, and graduation) and more about the process and my output (acquiring new knowledge, coding and building things, producing content, developing new contacts) has been key to making this change.

Having a consistent, organized and disciplined approach to study is important. There’s been a lot to learn and taking even a day or two off has resulted in quickly falling behind. At the same time, taking it all too seriously has from time to time resulted in frustration, dejection and burnout. Treating my studies less like an ordeal to be overcome and more like a puzzle to solve or a game to master has made the process more enjoyable, successful and increased my motivation and desire significantly. There’s a lot of science to back this approach – the mental models or frameworks used to approach a problem are crucial to outcomes, as is using a gamified approach to learning.

I’ve recently become a lot more interested in the science of learning and have actively embraced self-development, in the form of reading blogs, reading books, participating in Twitter discussions and other online communities and so on. Blogs such as Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s  Ness Labs and Shane Parrish’s Farnam Street have been particularly inspirational in this regard. As much as individual effort and drive are important in learning, even the most talented and hardworking student can only get so far on their own. To truly realize potential, like-minded community and peers are necessary for support, motivation and accountability.