Programming with Erik

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The Best Way to Learn About a New Topic

If you have trouble learning a new subject, try this method for a change

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Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

You really, REALLY should learn about this one thing that guarantees you a better position on the job market. But learning about things that are new to us can be incredibly difficult. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had the struggle.

If you want to learn, there’s a method I recommend heartily. It’s by no means a trick or a way to learn quicker. But it does allow you to get a much deeper, lasting understanding of a topic.

Write about it!

I write technical articles. I do this for multiple reasons, but one of them is to learn. By teaching others through my writing, I force myself to dive into a topic head-on. I force myself to learn, and it’s actually easier than regular learning!

If you try to explain something to others, you need to think really hard about the structure of a topic. If you want to explain how a car works, you can’t just tell your audience that it has wheels, they roll — oh and it has an engine — so yeah, logically a car works!

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

No! You need to tell the story from front to end. You start with the basics: how an engine works. Then you can tell how the engine’s energy is transmitted to the wheel. Speaking about wheels: a car has a steering wheel, and it works like this.

You slowly reveal all the secrets that make a car work, in a logical order. While doing that, you force yourself to dive into the topic, clearly seeing the relation between subtopics, and explore the subject in much more detail than you would by just ‘regular’ learning.

You don’t have to write for a big audience to learn a new topic. Writing well and for a large audience is hard. But writing on your own blog? No so hard — and a lot less pressure.

If you’re lucky, you can still teach a few people something new. Or refer a colleague to it, if applicable. If not, no problem! You learned something new and at the same time have well-structured notes of it! I find myself referring back to my own articles all the time. My memory is terrible — but I usually do remember I wrote about it before.

Another advantage of writing on the web is that you’re showcasing your knowledge. Who knows what might come from you explaining this stuff and sharing all this useful information?

Present it!

I’m not a public speaker. I’ve presented before audiences before. I can do it, sure. But it’s stressful and I prefer the safety and sanctity of my home office — thank you. However, all the stuff I told you about writing holds true for presenting too.

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Photo by Product School on Unsplash

The stuff I presented about in the past is still thoroughly engraved in my brain. The pressure of an audience that’s listening to you, potentially asking you questions, forces you to go even deeper!

And presenting can be a huge ego-booster. If your audience liked it, they tend to let you know. At first through applause, but usually, you’ll get some enthusiastic reactions and comments after the dust settles too.

I’ve had people come up to me years later, asking about a topic I presented about, or even asking me to present it again.

“Hey, you’re an expert on Docker, right?”

Uh no, I’m not —

“But you had that great presentation on it! When was it, a few months ago?”

Ohhh… right. And that’s where my imposter syndrome usually kicks in.

Wrap up

If you have a hard time learning and retaining a new topic, consider writing about it. Write for an audience and try to explain it well. And if you dare: present about it too!

This way of learning not only forces you to go deeper, but it also has added benefits. If you share and show your expertise, beautiful things may one day come of it! And if not? At least you learned something new and still have the notes.

Written by

Software developer by day, writer at night.

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