Let's Talk About Learning

This is the first of a series of posts looking at CPD and learning.

Let’s talk about learning.

I coach. I’ve spent a significant amount of my life attempting to understand how other people learn, and to help others learn better.

I used to really suck at it. I’ve become a /little bit better/ at it.

So, before we talk about learning, let’s talk about motivation. Because motivation is what’s driving you to learn in the first place, it’s the thing that keeps you going. Understanding those factors will influence the amount of the time, energy and stress you’re willing to endure. So why are you here?

  • The sheer joy of something new?
  • Wanting to do better?
  • The fear of falling behind?
  • Wanting to improve your outcomes?

All are valid. Some are carrots, some are sticks. You need to come to terms with your own motivators.

Now we have a handle on why we’re here - what do we want? Goals and outcomes are useful, they give us something to latch on to and work towards. Except that as human beings, we have an tendency to moonshot our goals, and then act surprised when we don’t meet them.

Someone I work with said:

“I want to learn how to code Angular”. “Okay”, “How are you going to do that?”
“I’m just going to code Angular.”
“Excellent, let me know how you get on.”

A few weeks later…

“How’s your Angular going?”
“I haven’t got anywhere.”
“Let’s take this from the top.”

There are two groups that have learning nailed. Children and athletes.

Children break down objectives by default.

“I want a pony” “Well first I find a field, then I find a rainbow, once I’ve found a rainbow, I need a pot of gold, and … and … and … I HAVE A PONY!”

A*, 1,000 points to Gryffindor. Superb. This is correct.

The adults in the room tend to think this is absurd and throw up blockers at the first hurdle. Except this is problem solving 101. Children instinctively have this kind of problem solving mechanism, and then have it hammered out of them by a rote-based education system.

The other group are athletes. Performance athletes are objective focused - “I get over the finish line within this time”, “I hit the other person with the pointy bit before they stop me”. And they have to break down those objectives in to component parts and design plans to reach those outcomes, consciously or subconsciously.

It’s time to start thinking like an athlete.

When you see an olympic athlete on the running a 100m sprint, it’s easy to think that the path there consists of “running very fast” repeatedly. So, here’s the reality - that athlete will likely have been working to a carefully prepared plan to deliver on that one race. Their sessions will have been varied - they’ll have done strength work, tempo work, speed sessions, endurance sessions, gym work, and adapted their training as their requirements changed to meet their goals. They’ll have hit blockers: injury, lack of progress, life committments and had to adapt. They didn’t just start their season and go “hey I’m going to run an Olympic final in six months, I’d better run fast”, they iterated on their requirements.

But today’s focussed session is “20 x 200m sprints with 60 seconds of recovery”.

So, nothing stops us from taking a similar approach.

We know the end point is “learn Angular”. There’s going to be a bunch of stuff that contributes to that. It’s a big framework. You may want to sketch out a quick plan that gives you a division of the different skills you want to tackle over time. There’s going to be bits that interconnect, it’s useful to have a sense of where those are. Then you pick a small bit to conquer for a while. You’re working on small improvements over time. You may want to hang it on a bigger project (some people like to frame their learning in real projects), or in independent exercises, or other learning models. You learn your way. We’ll tackle that in another post. The important bit is the doing. Then iterate. Don’t forget to check in every so often and make sure you’re on path.

Now let’s try that conversation again:

“How’s your Angular going?”
“I’ve got a few components going, I’ve got a bit of a handle on routing and I’m just getting my head around observables.” “Rock on, need anything?”

This feels better.