Learning tech stuff
In this article, I describe my current experiment with an efficient learning technique based on zettelkatsen, accelerated expertise, and mnemonic medium.
I was facing a problem. I need to learn Kubernetes... and I need to do it fast. Fortunately, I managed to learn a few other technologies so far but this time I wanted to make the learning as efficient as possible. To achieve this I connected several Ideas I get from reading about effective learning, together with my experience, and created a system that allowed me to get all my tasks done and be able to speak about Kubernetes in our internal conference in three months.
The biggest influence on me so far had Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen with their article about mnemonic medium . It is an idea of creating books combined with spaced repetition, which kind of forces the reader to engage with content repeatedly and think about it. This is a great way to remember facts and think about the material in a long run. The biggest problem is to create good prompts, fortunately, there is a great long read about this topic which helped me a lot.
I discovered the zettelkatsen from Eliska Sestakova and her awesome blog (CZ only) and the biggest treasure of this system for me is the connection. I write notes about the topic that I am learning using short paragraphs and linking the paragraphs together to create a graph connecting the ideas across the document. Reading this feels more like a gliding between topics and exploring rather than a sequential flow of information.
I stumbled across accelerated learning through this article by Cedric Chin. The article gave me a pretty good sense of how knowledge learning differs from skills learning. We often hear that the best way to learn is using spaced repetition, this is great for knowledge but we have no clue if this works the same way for skills.
...spaced repetition has mostly been shown to work for knowledge retention, not skill retention; second, in general, studies tell us that skills tend to be retained for a longer period than knowledge. The authors note that we currently lack a good empirical base for skill retention.
The article (book) offers a way to better teach skills. It is not that revolutionary but I think it is often underused. The article advises to create a set of hard simulations based on input from domain experts and letting the learners practice. The task for me should be an exciting quest that sends me on the learning journey. The only problem with quests is that they are often not that easy.
Putting those three concepts together I created an article about Kubernetes which started with a difficult task. The article contained paragraphs with a description of a single concept, as a pod, accompanied with a few flashcards with the most important concepts, names, etc. Those paragraphs were interconnected. Learning using this format felt explorative. I usually started with the task and used the article as a guide through the exercise. During the tasks I did a ton of notes and since I am the one creating the article for myself, correcting mistakes I found out. I use the spaced repetition "cards" in the evening as a habit. The evening practice takes a few minutes but it often showed me where my blind spots were. The process of learning was more difficult than just reading a book but the amount of information I really understand was beyond comparable.
Where to continue?
The last thing that remains to explore is if using the format itself is useful or the learning is in the creation of the whole workbook. I will definitely explore the area and will be back, either with publishing one of my learning workbooks or with some results on a quinea pig. I will report back on my findings.