Learning Through Blogging

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Over the past month I have ran something of an experiment.

I have always been about optimizing pretty much everything. I keep data on how much money I spend, when I go to sleep, my associated exam scores, how many calories I intake, and so on. I am a data guy, this is the main reason I look towards science as a field of study, particular data analysis with computers (i.e. my major is Computer Science). Because I am all about optimization, I have spent a large portion of my life figuring out how to optimize my life. After reading Scott Young’s blog post on learning through blogging, listening to lectures through The Teaching Company regarding learning by Professor Monisha Pasupathi from the University of Utah (about a year ago) and listening, reading, watching videos from countless other sources. I came to the conclusion that beyond using Anki Cards (currently I have ~2000 cards) to learn, the next best thing is to constantly test yourself. What better way to do that than through a blog?

Motivation

I am extremely busy. I read about constantly testing yourself (i.e. writing everything down everything you know) as the best mode of learning a little over a year ago (through TTC), and yet it took me this long to implement it. It’s very difficult to consistently spend time writing down everything you already know. As an aside, the reason it is an effective way to learn is it both (a) enforces what you already do know, and (b) you quickly find out what you do not know. The way I combated this is by creating a blog. Blogging gives you an audience, and when you have an audience you become afraid of rejection and are excited by positive comments. The social sharing sites such as Reddit, Hacker NewsTwitterFacebook, and more, have systems of up/down voting (retweets/favorites count). The social media websites motivate good content and in turn good explanations, which entails a high level of understanding. Further, the more followers I have the more reason I have to post content. I enjoy having followers, I enjoy helping others, explaining complex (or not so complex) ideas and I receive gratification from emails, up votes, even critiques. To be honest, critiques are my favorite because they help me improve my knowledge, which was the whole point of blogging in the first place (for me anyways).

Discoveries

I have learned a lot the past month, probably more than I could possibly explain here (check out my knowledge page). Related to learning and blogging I feel I have learned three key things:

Writing everything you know about a subject down is definitely an effective way to learn.

I have learned more through critiquing what I have written than by sitting through any lecture. You constantly need to be challenging every statement, and by trying to write educational articles I feel I have learned a lot myself.

Writing clearly and thinking clearly are one in the same.

All my life I have had trouble speaking and writing, to be honest I believe it is a form of dyslexia. It is almost as if my brain has various threads and I will print out words in reverse order, such as:

the fireman went up the tree. The cat is stuck in the tree so,

Writing a blog seems to have helped to some extent. By having to articulate my thoughts in a reasonable way, I will often reread an article 3 or 4 times before posting. Each time improving a sentence here or there, it’s not perfect, but I believe it has improved my life.

People want to correct you.

Any time something reads incorrectly, they usually jump at the chance to comment. Either because they want to prove their superiority, they are trying to learn themselves, or they do not want me to mislead others. In any case, this constant feed back loop creates a very quick turnaround time for help, much quicker than professors can help me. This past week alone I have written 8 blog posts averaging 1000 words, in which there have been 2 corrections from redditors within an hour of being posted. This is astounding considering the average response time from my professors via email or forum posts is somewhere between two hours and two days (and they are not there 24/7).

Productivity

By forcing myself to write blog posts related to my field, I have also greatly increased my productivity on github:

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 5.02.29 PM

I do not have a graph, but you can also see my number of github views, followers and stars of my repositories grow significantly. I am assuming this effect builds on itself and the more followers I have the easier it is to obtain new followers.

By being productive and coding a significant amount I have both distinguished or clearly demonstrated my ability to code (employers can review this) and generated some interest in my open source project OpenBKZ. Which leads me to my next point…

Followers

Gaining followers is one of the most exciting things about blogging. I have just about doubled my twitter followers… going from 40 to 71 (alright not quite), tripled my github followers (again 3 to 9), and my RSS followers from 0 to 42. None of that is very good, but it does show improvement.

Having followers, also lets me know that I have interested people in the content I am writing and that they would like to hear more. To me, this is extremely gratifying and it also provides me with raw numbers and being competitive by nature I would like to obtain more, further pushing me to learn and write ever better content.

Reflections

I believe I will continue writing my blog several times a week, although I only expected to try this out for this month, I believe I has improved my life. Writing and attempting to teach everything I learn has been a significant improvement over previous modes of learning. Although it requires a fair amount of time is required to write a blog post, it is worth it.

Spending two to four hours a day to (more or less) fully understand a topic (or subtopic) should greatly improve my ability to recall the information at a later date. As opposed to cramming for an exam or glancing over information I spend each day attempting to learn a topic deeply. Further, while I write my article I attempt to cite various sources, there by connecting the information I write to outside information (which I can later visit if I forget). Finally, and most importantly, I attempt to relate my current post with five articles I had previously written. Creates a version of a “mental palace” in my head, where I can link all the information I have previously written together.

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2 thoughts on “Learning Through Blogging

  1. Hey, I listened to that TTC series about learning last summer! The banal response is “small world,” but maybe this is more endemic of the sort of incestuous nature of good content. For example, ever notice how the same metaphors get reprinted over and over? It’s like there’s one dude who stumbles on a good one, and everyone else just copies that one. (I think I noticed the most egregious example of this when reading Moonwalking With Einstein and then later stumbling on some academic paper which the author had more or less paraphrased.)

    Writing everything you know about a subject down is definitely an effective way to learn.

    There’s a dude who actually tried to record his every thought. Some discussion here.

    Writing clearly and thinking clearly are one in the same.

    Leslie Lamport (Turing award recipient) talks about this in “Thinking for Programmers”. He says something like, “If you think without writing, you only think you’re thinking.”

    My currently model of this is that it’s related to the terrible limitations of the human mind. After all, given that most people can only hold 7 plus or minus 2 things in memory at one time, how much productive thought can you have without an external aid? (Although chunking allows one to get around these limitations to a fair degree, which I wrote about here.)

    Finally, and most importantly, I attempt to relate my current post with five articles I had previously written.

    This is a good idea. I should do this. One of my philosophies of commenting is that I use it as an opportunity to come up with connections between the writing and other things I know. That way I can sort of work this beneficial process into a habit.

  2. I always enjoy your tips and ideas about how to optimize learning. You may not be able to identify with this, but every Sunday I hear a great sermon from the pastor. I have deep conversations with close friends about life and family and spirituality and perspective and God. My friends share articles and videos on Facebook full of truth that resounds with me. I can see these things and go “Wow that is profound” but the next day it’s forgotten. As far as I know, it hasn’t enriched my life. We live in an information age…too much information, I feel. There is too much good stuff out there. Writing things down would help me immensely – and perhaps being selective about what I write down, [even though you talked about writing down everything] so I can evaluate what will actually improve my life and what is merely interesting.

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