How to learn shit good

I am 60 years old and I know how to do a lot of shit. I can build a house. I can build a forum with integrated credit card processing. I can play beach volleyball. I can weld. I can ice skate. I can build an airplane. I can solve a differential equation. I can build furniture. I know how to learn shit.

In the real world, everyone does not get a participation medal. If you want to get ahead you need to become good at learning. Enough of this “personalized learning” nonsense, I don’t care how you like to learn, this is how you need to learn:

  • Read. Not from some random website but from a real textbook. Understand the theory. Reading is the fastest way to gain knowledge.
  • Watch. If the skill requires motion or technique then watch a video. ProTip: if the video is just a talking head you are wasting your time and should be getting your information by reading instead.
  • Practice. There is literally no substitute for this. Practice makes perfect.
  • Teach. If you can teach it to others in a simple way so that their eyes light up and they vigorously nod, then you truly understand the material. On the other hand, if you make it seem complicated its only because you yourself do not understand as well as you think.

Why teachers give homework

For anyone who has attended college, the following will be very familiar. You are in the lecture and the professor demonstrates how to analyze all the forces on a truss bridge. It’s so simple that you keep nodding your head, “yep, thats easy”. You are tempted to skip the homework because its so easy that it seems a total waste of time. Then you start the homework assignment and it suddenly what looked simple gets VERY confusing and complicated. You get totally lost and have to go back over your notes to see what the prof did and in what order. We learn by DOING, not by watching. Watching is an essential first step but without the DOING, one will never learn. This applies to virtually all kinds of learning be it solving differential equations, a ballet move, or learning how to weld.

I like learning from YouTube videos!

I dont care WHAT you like, watching videos is more entertainment than learning. Most people LOVE learning by watching YouTube videos and spurn old fashioned techniques like reading books and practicing. The problem is that people who watch “how to” videos on YouTube have little grasp on reality. If watching videos is the only way you learn then you are literally not going to make it in this modern world. Competition is really tough in the world. Competition to get into universities and competition for good jobs. In the job market, you are not just competing against Americans. Because of globalization and remote working, you are competing against people on every continent. To get that job, you need to be better which means you have to learn faster.

In videos, 150 words per minute is the recommended talking speed for maximum comprehension – faster and people do not understand, slower and they get bored and tune out. Contrast this to reading where the average adult can read and comprehend 300 words per minute. I know you like watching videos because its fun but what chance do you think your resume has when you are competing against people who have been able to learn twice as fast as you? No chance, sorry.

DIY philosophy and pep talk

The perception-reality gap when learning by watching YouTube videos

People who watched video on how to moonwalk like Michael Jackson twenty times were convinced they could do it as well as Michael himself. In fact, when they tried, they were EPIC failures. Watching videos leads people into a false sense of learning. We learn by DOING, not watching. Why this is relevant to fitness is that people watch dozens of squatting and deadlift videos, convince themselves they are experts, then become dangerous gym-tards.

Using the internet to learn

Can you use the internet to learn? It depends. There are a LOT of awesome tools available on the internet. If you are a software engineer, you can find code snippets to try out which can make learning much faster. You can find visualizers and simulators for mathematics. The problem is that most people these days forget the #1 and best source of information – their public library. To get a textbook published, you need to be an expert in the field whereas anyone can make a website and use SEO to make it show up on page 1 of google. The problem with this “information” is that it is often just google bait to get you to click on their product links which make them money. The problem with wikipedia is that you have no guarantees of accuracy or bias. Unless the information you are seeking is so new that there are no books available on it, the public library is your #1 best source!

How to correctly use YouTube videos

Remember that every second you are WATCHING a video, you are not PRACTICING. It is PRACTICE that is going to make you better. If you just watch a bunch of videos without context, most of it will just go over your head and you will waste time. Lets take the example of tuning up your bicycle. What you will find is that after watching “how to” videos all weekend long, you will find yourself completely stumped in the first 5 minutes of getting your hands greasy. A much better way to do this is to spend 2 hours reading a book on bike maintenance, then start on your bike. When you get to a stumbling block, search for a video on that precise subject and don’t get distracted. Once you find out what you need to know, get back to work with the wrenches until you hit the next stumbling block.

Formal schooling or self-taught?

Great question! Universities are very expensive and getting more expensive by the minute. Most people who get degrees find that the low paying jobs they get after graduation makes it VERY difficult to pay off their student loans. Degrees in science, engineering, law, and medicine can provide good incomes but most others do not. Is there a better way than the traditional university education? It depends.

There are lots of options these days for online learning. There are on-line universities but also simply websites that will teach you the skills. For example, for aspiring software engineers, there is w3schools.com who I have used a lot. The big issue is that we learn by doing. Are you motivated enough that you will keep up consistently with the online class AND do the homework? If so, then the self-taught approach will work for you. Personally, I could never have got my engineering degree from an online university as I would not have done the homework and therefore would not have learned anything. What I find is that I can easily teach myself any skill BUT I need strong motivation. I need an immediate need for the knowledge/skill meaning a project I want to do NOW that requires it, then I am highly motivated. On the other hand, teaching myself statics or dynamics required for me mechanical engineering is something that I simply would not have been able to do on my own without actually sitting in a class and having the professor collect homework assignments every day.

These days, the degree from the bricks and mortar university is not as important as it was in the past. Many times, employers are simply looking for someone with a specific skillset and they dont care how you got it. They can set you down at a keyboard and ask you to create a MySQL database table, create a line chart from data in a spreadsheet, or whatever. Whether you go the self taught route or the university route depends a bit on what your area of interest is and what you want your work to be.

True mastery by teaching

If you really want to be an expert on something, try teaching it! If you find yourself making it seem really complicated then you dont understand it yourself. If you truly understand the subject, you will be able to teach it in a clear and concise fashion.