Self-educating how-to

There is a small list of tricks one can use to improve ones learning rate.)

There are famous saying: Knowing is not enough, we must apply, willing is not enough, we must do.

So, what could we do?

The first thing you need, after your will and your time, is your imagination. Some of these video lectures are very stylish one, especially video lectures of Abelson and Sussman. It is like watching a movie from 80's. While you can think of ordinary video lectures as a documentary, this particular lectures are almost as good and stylish as action movies. Well, by modern standards there are almost no action.

Download videos to your disk. You will need them more than once. Never use flash-player - it will annoy you with lags and glitches and spoil the feeling, ruin your pleasure. Local playback provides less distractions and could be done in a full-screen mode.

I use mplayer to watch videos and emacs to make notes. mplayer could be easily re-compiled with optimization and configured to use hardware acceleration, so, even a very modest computer, like my current laptop, could play videos smoothly. It also uses very few resources, because there is no GUI.

Emacs is, well.. it is an environment for editing. It is not an IDE, it is a editing environment. It is so unique and powerful that it is still de-facto standard and editor of choice in academia world. It is more than good enough. could explain things much better than I do.

The trick is to watch some part of a lecture, then pause the video playback, and write down the source code from the screen to your emacs window. You should not just copy, but also run the code right from emacs, which could be configured to use any modern Scheme or Lisp system. I prefer MIT Scheme and SBCL, but I have Racket, Gambit and Bigloo installed.

If you got a big-enough screen, you could place mplayer's and emacs windows side-by-side, and enjoy a broad view. If you are like me, and have very modest netbook, then you probably should place the windows in separate workplaces and switch between them using a hot-key. in Ununtu it could be set up to any combination you wish.

The next trick - once is not enough. If you are non-native English speaker, like I am, then do not expect that you will get all the material in one time. The difficulty in learning using your second language, is that your mind is skipping the details it considers irrelevant, unconsciously.. When you will watch a video second, or even third time you will still discover new things..)

Do not watch videos in a row. Pause and switch. There are reasons why no one in established universities are teaching courses in more than an hour per day, and never the next day. You need some time to re-associate and re-index what you have learnt. The it is a background process and it runs when you are asleep, when you're washing dishes or making breakfast. Do not interfere.

Read after watching, watch after reading. Reading and watching/listening are different cognitive tasks, so, you forms slightly different associations and reinforces existing ones with different intensity. When you are reading a book, and meet a phrase that makes you think, gives some new fact of an association, stop and write it down to on a paper. Typing on a keyboard is less useful, because handwriting is much more than typing.

The same is especially true for writing the code. When you're copying the code from the video to you editor, you are mere copying, you're not inventing, not producing the code, you are copying. But it is useful nevertheless. Copy-pasting makes you dumber, while re-writing trains you, but very slowly. That is why any teacher insist that you must do exercises and your home work. When you're struggling you're learning at the fastest rate. We learn by doing.

Read your lecture notes as an article. But before that, try to write it as an article to be learnt from. Try to update, improve it, make it more explicit, easy to read, easy to understand, simplify each time you open the file. This is the same practice you will use for your code. Well, your lecture notes contains some code. It must become a habit - continuous improvement, until there will be nothing to remove or simplify.

Visualize. Nothing could replace a pad and a pencil. I personally prefer a big notebook with a metallic spiral and a pen with 4 different colors. Draw. Draw arrows, tables, lists, trees. Draw connections between them. Redraw again, more clearly, in different shape. Visualize structures by its shapes, visualize associations (by arrows). Do it on paper. It is another cognitive process of crucial importance. All that UML crap is just an attempt to do this.

Watch video lectures like movies. Try to enjoy it. Try to pay attention to details, to language usage, to atmosphere, use your imagination. Imagine that you're one in the audience, that you will soon become a famous computer scientist, that you are here, in Berkeley or Stanford or Boston or whatever it is.

Play with your toys. When you got some excitement from watching or reading try to play with the tools they use. Install different versions of Scheme, or fresh version of GNU Octave or Python or Go. Look at its source, learn how to build and install the software from its sources, look what dependencies it uses. Look at included examples and tests (unit-tests are the great source of insights how things works). Ask questions which will arise. It is all about different points of view which allows us to make new associations.

Try to like what you see or read, and love what you do. This is the way to get into a flow, where you can forget time and surroundings or even who you are. And it is called joy.

One more thing.

When you're googling for something, avoid blogs and general forums. Do not waste your time on narcissists who are posting to show how clever they are. There is no other meaning in their texts. Almost everything they "discover" or trying to convey could be stated much better by calm and trained mind. So, try to read papers and books instead. Textbooks are your best friends. Of course, there are also crappy textbooks, written to make it as thick as possible to get paid better. Fortunately all the best textbooks are known by its authors. Read the author names, not the titles or, god forbid, annotations on the back side.

Last modified 10 years ago Last modified on May 22, 2012, 12:26:16 PM
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