How To Learn a New Skill

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” - Pablo Picasso

Learn Together

(my notes from taking a Coursera class on learning and how I applied to learning software development)

The acquisition of skill requires practice. Repetition alone, however, does not ensure the acquisition of a skill. Learning or skill acquisition incorporates this idea of experience, proposes that skills develop from the interaction of four components central to information processing. These components include:

  • SPEED - processing speed, the rate at which information is processed in our processing system;
  • WHAT - breadth of declarative knowledge, the size of an individual’s factual information store;
  • HOW - breadth of procedural skill, the ability to perform the actual skill.
  • WHEN - processing capacity, synonymous with working memory. This improves skill usage by linking environmental cues with appropriate responses.

Fitts model for understanding skill acquisition.

Fitts preposed this model that learning was possible through the completion of various stages.

Cognitive phase (observe and record)

  • OBSERVE WITH FOCUS AND ATTENTION - Attention at this point in the process is significant for the acquisition of skill. Limit distraction so patterns will be apparent. Sharpen focus by taking notes - handwriting in blue pen, self-testing with quick recall, and organization of new concepts.
  • LIMIT DISTRACTION - It is held that the greater the amount of important stimuli associated with a task, the longer it will take to complete this phase of the model. Keep narrow focus on the task.
  • SCHEMAS AND MEMORY MAPS - Break down the desired skill to be learned into parts and understanding how these parts come together as a whole for the correct performance of the task. The way an individual organizes these parts is known as schemas. Schemas are important in directing the acquisition process and the way an individual comes to choose schemas. Study the way that the code works in the background, when it breaks and why. Draw on the whiteboard, use visual aids like sticky notes. Understand line and by line and by module/component/app.

Associative phase (deepen and widen understanding)

  • REPEATED PRACTICE TO SEE DEEPER PATTERNS - until patterns emerge and develop ability to determine what is important and unimportant. The ability to differentiate important from unimportant stimuli is crucial at this stage of the model. HackerRank and CodeWars, and building more projects with different features, helps build the deeper understanding not just what, but when and why.
  • FEEDBACK is important to correct errors in perceptions and connections. Tadlock calls this predictive modeling, does this action really determine the outcome. Pair programming really increases deeper understanding and eliminates incorrect assumptions. Comments by peers in social and professional media are the feedback methods often used by developers.

Autonomous phase (improve speed and technique)

  • SEE A BETTER/FASTER WAY - The power law of learning can be overcome if the subject is shown a more effective way to accomplish the task. Viewing a film of an action is observational learning, which effectively gives the viewer new memories of a technique to draw upon for his or her future performances of the task. Watch tutorials, complete MOOCS, attend presentations, workshops, and conferences. Also, read and implement best practices from style guides.
  • REPEATED PRACTICE IN PROCESS FOR KNOWLEDGE AND SPEED IN DECISIONS - Faster decisions because skill has become automated. Practice in HackerRank, CodeWars, and InterviewCake to build skills in using the tools in different ways for speed and breadth of use.


How To Learn a New Skill

2 minute read

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” - Pablo Picasso

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3 minute read

“Fix the cause, not the symptom.” - Steve Maguire

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