Putting the Plan Into Action: How to Start Learning Something New?

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Jun 9 · 5 min read
Image Credit: Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

Thanks to the ubiquity of the internet, gaining a new skill or knowledge is not as difficult as it used to be. In this era, free education is more accessible and available to the general public. Learning something new can simply be a few clicks away with a short reading period. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone can be benefited from the internet when it comes to self-education. One of the reasons is due to the excessive information online, many people don’t know what is the ‘optimal strategy’ to take for their learning process. They’re drowning in information without putting anything into practice. I’ve seen people mapped out what they want to learn but never executed their plans.

To be honest, I don’t have a thorough plan for my self-taught project (here I’m mainly referring to learning some graphic and web design skills). I merely had a vague idea about how my learning phases will be like before I started. Therefore, I write down this article as an intention to document the materials and strategies I took to kick-off my learning journey. This may not be the most efficient (or even right) way to achieve my objectives when I look back in the near future. However, it was interesting to know how to make the first move and evaluate it when I have time. Here are some steps I took in the past few days as the start of my little journey:

1. Take an online course from Coursera

At the beginning of my learning process, I was overwhelmed with the information online. As a result, I tried to start with some open courses so I could receive a bit of guidance in a totally new field of study. There are many online lectures or open resources available from websites like Coursera, edX, Udemy, Skillshare, MIT OpenCourseWare and so on. I took a course called ‘Introduction to User Experience Design’ on Coursera (this course is provided by the Georgia Institute of Technology). This course provided several useful reading materials for those who want to dig deeper, including the book ‘The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman and website links like Usability.gov and Usabilityfirst.com. There’re other materials that can be used for further studies from the actual courses taught in the Georgia Institute of Technology, including ‘The UX Book: Process and Guidelines for Ensuring a Quality User Experience’ by Morgan Kaufmann from course Interface Prototyping and many recommended reference materials from course Design of Interactive Environment.

2. Read books that are highly recommended by others

When I did my research, there were always some top-reading lists that popped up for design learning. More often than not, people would recommend the same book over and over again. That’s a sign of putting the book on your must-read list. Although reading books aren’t the most popular, and definitely not the most efficient way to acquire new knowledge in modern days, it does give me a more general picture on topics that I’m not familiar with. For example, I started to pick up books that focus on typography and design. The former one included ‘Designing with Type’ by James Craig and ‘Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works’ by Erik Spiekermann & E.M. Ginger. The later one included ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ as mentioned above, ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ by Roger Black and ‘The Non-designer’s Design Book’ by Robin Williams. Personally, I think these books are definitely worth spending some times to go through.

3. Watch YouTube videos

It will be impossible to not gather information from YouTube nowadays as it may be one of the easiest measures for self-driven education. I mainly watched YouTube videos to learn how to use software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and some general opinions on the industrial environment that these YouTubers work(ed) in. These videos are powerful enough to provide me the skills that I’m looking for, however, there are also plenty of topics that are not covered by anyone (or probably not well-explained). When this happens, I simply go search for online courses or read online posts to solve my problems. Personally, I watched many videos from channels like The Futur, PHLEARN, Digital Art Creation, etc. They usually produce videos that are more project-based rather than systematic teaching lectures. Therefore, there’s still a need to use other resources to support the learning process via YouTube.

4. Just google ‘how to… …’

I couldn't remember how many websites I clicked on when googling questions like ‘how to self-taught graphic design’ or ‘how to self learn web design’. There are so many people sharing their self-taught experiences on websites such as Reddit, Quora, Medium, etc. I read through their experience and tried to figure which methods they used were more suitable for me. I think this is probably the second most time-consuming measures to take for gaining new knowledge or skills besides reading a book. It actually took me a lot of times to filter out the information through everyone’s recommendations and made decisions on which paths I should follow. Even so, I would say that many people’s stories are quite captivating and this strategy will continuously carry me further down on my self-education journey.

5. Be patient!

There’s a scene from the movie “Finding Nemo” that’s quite memorable to me, which is the part when Dory sang ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.’ This song often plays in my head whenever I feel like giving up. One of the hardest parts of self-education is that one can get very excited at the beginning of the journey and then quickly burn out. Compared to traditional education, self-based education usually requires more efforts and times to execute a feasible plan and evaluate the outcomes of such a plan. In the short run, positive outcomes may not be obvious during the self-learning journey and people would tend to quit before achieving their goals. I understand how hard it can be to question every step I take for my self-learning project and feel lost in whatever I do since I haven’t sought for a mentor or enrolled in traditional courses yet. All I can do so far is to keep tracking my process and start to piece the information I had together to figure out my next move. Yet, these uncertainties really excite me and make me want to keep hustling. I hope that when I revisit this post after a few months, I will have a better idea of what I am doing during the time and receive some positive results.

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The blog that shows the stories of my self-learning process.