07 February 2019

My Learning - Part 14 - Other sources

Blogs and articles

Remember My hourglass model? Blog posts and articles are especially great when I'm in the bottom third of the hourglass (high level of mastery) because people share new and fresh ideas in blog posts long before they reach the refined state of a book or a conference presentation and it's these new and fresh ideas that improve me at this point.

Blog posts and articles are typically short, free, specific and easy to skim; all of which are excellent attributes!

One drawback though is that the effort required to publish a blog post compared to e.g. a book is much lower meaning there is more weak content shadowing the truly amazing stuff. Another is the blog posts are often quite narrow and limited in scope meaning I need an established understanding of the topic to really be able to learn from most of them. Finally there are the same problems as with books: I don't see the gaps when I read them and blog posts have almost never pushed me to actually do something.

Find them
  • I check if my heroes blog/write articles
  • I follow my heroes on e.g. Twitter and LinkedIn and check the websites they share content from.
  • I just google "best <topic> blogs", there are (almost) always someone who've spent way too much time finding interesting blogs and articles and shared their findings. I'm careful though since they've shared websites fitting their needs not mine and unhelpful self-promotion is common.
For my main area of expertise, software testing, one of my most important learning sources for years was a meticulously maintained list of RSS-feeds. It had an inflow of 20+ entries a day and at my peak I at a minimum skimmed all of them.

Lately though blogs and articles have been replaced by podcasts and presentations shared on YouTube (I'll explain why in the next chapter) but I still consider blogs a good source and when I start to get a hang of coaching I'll probably start looking for blogs to follow.

Finally; just like with books I typically skim an article or blog post quickly, then decide if it's worth my time to read them carefully and if I do I do it with my trusted notebook.

A blog to start with: 5 Blogs
It's a blog where Simon P. Schrijver every day lists 5 great blog posts he read that day. Topics vary but typically touches on testing, leadership and/or workplace psychology.

Podcasts and audio books

I use podcasts the same way I use blogs and they have basically the same benefits and drawbacks. What differs is it's more common that I need my eyes for something than my ears, making podcast and audio books easier to fit into my life. The drawback however is that podcasts are much harder to skim. So if the situation allows me to read instead I typically choose that.

Find them
I find audio books the exact same way I find books so not much to say there. Podcasts are a bit different though.

First of all I rarely listen to podcasts in focused mode so it's more a filtering tool (find people and topics I want to research). Second of all sound quality is super-important to me, so I skip many great pods just because of poor audio. Finally not that many of my heroes record their own podcasts or the sound is subpar. This means I more often look for popular podcasts on a specific topic or search for my heroes; if they've been invited as guests to a podcast that podcast might have invited more interesting people I've not yet heard about.

Alternatively I follow a recommendation. It's quite rare I find podcasts I like this way though. I don't know if this is because my taste is weird or if it's something else but... still rare (I just don't like most of the podcasts recommended to me).

Since sound quality is so important and podcasts are harder to skim my list of podcasts is much shorter and I typically listen to all episodes of a few podcasts rather than individual episodes from several (the way I do with blogs). If I find a podcast that seems promising rather than subscribing to it immediately I browse through the existing episodes and download the one or two that strike me as the most interesting... so they enter some kind of audition... few makes it out of this stage.

I don't do this myself but many people I respect listen to podcasts in 1.5x or 2x speed. This allows them to consume more content in a shorter amount of time. I've tried that myself but not liked it so far, still want to throw it out there.

When I find a good podcast episode I almost always look for a book, blog or something like that by the person speaking rather than listen to the episode itself in my focused mode. The reason is listening to a complete episode takes such an enormous amount of time compared to skimming a book. What I do however, since distracted time is much more readily available, is listen to that episode over and over again in my distracted mode hoping that at least the best parts stick simply through repetition.

The same is true for audio books but in that case I check if the actual book is available at the library so that I can borrow it and process it in my focused mode that way (skim, quickly jump between sections etc.).

My favorites podcast:
Framgångspodden (Swedish)


Recorded presentations, brief explanatory videos etc. serve a very similar purpose as blogs; except I can't skim them as good but the quality is often better. So the purpose, benefits and drawback are virtually the same.

Find them
I would like to say I use recommendations and browse my heroes as strategy for finding good videos but I'm waaay too often led off course by YouTube's algorithms. For this reason I try to limit the amount of time I spend in front of videos...

When I see rainbow colored cats it's usually a good idea to close down the browser...

A more useful tip:
Just like I mentioned in Conferences, I try to come up with questions when I watch videos online and on a few occasions I've sent these questions or comments to the presenter... However, this is something I, in all honesty, do way less than I think I should.

My favorite video on learning:
4 steps to design your own education by Till H. Groß

Courses live

I love to meet and discuss with people who are experts in topics I'm interested in. Courses are great because usually there are just a few people there meaning there aren't that much competition to speak with the teacher (assuming she's amazing).

For me courses are, just like books, a great tool to build a solid foundation in a topic but since it's a much bigger investment (and reward) courses are normally, for me, the step after books; I want to have a pretty good understanding of the topic before I attend a course.

The benefits are similar to a conference but the targeted focus and the access to one hero generally makes this a better option when I'm in the "narrow section of the hourglass" (see My hourglass model) while a conference is better when I'm in the "broad sections of the hourglass".

Find them
Typically I browse my heroes and check what they have available (price, location, date, topic) and hopefully I find a course that way. If I'm looking for a more basic, "off the shelf" topic, like most programming languages or basic business financials, I'm immediately less picky but on the other hand I rarely attend those kind of courses since I can learn that just as fast by studying myself (or that's my assumption at least).

When it comes to selecting courses I almost exclusively focus on the teacher while the topic is a much lower priority. For me a good teacher is what makes or breaks a course and what a poor teacher brings is typically something I can find much faster and cheaper online. If I do find a course where the description sounds great but I've not heard about the teacher I typically spend a fair amount of time researching the teacher and course (e.g. check if the teacher have any videos published online, course reviews or check if friends have attended the course/know about the teacher). Once again, most of my focus is on researching the teacher, less on the course itself.

  • I always try to speak with the other participants, they're hopefully there for a reason and that reason may align with mine which can lead to very helpful conversations.
  • I always have a specific color for questions or a specific place to note them down so I don't forget in case I can't ask them immediately.
  • I ask the questions I have, not only to get the answers but also to help the teacher understand why I'm where/what's important to me since that can sometimes lead to small, helpful detours or influence which direction the teacher chooses to go when deciding what content to include/exclude.
  • I try to speak with the teacher before the course. One reason is the same as asking questions: If she knows what I'm looking for it might affect the content slightly in my (and hopefully others) favor. A second reason is I personally get more out of a course when I'm challenged/put on the hot seat and I've learned teachers tend to use people they know for this. So if I can communicate that before the course it ups my chances of getting more out of the course.

Courses online

I'd say an online course has the exact same purpose, benefits and drawbacks as an audio book:
I use them to build a solid foundation in a topic. They're great because I can easily process them in my distracted mode and the content is typically much more thought through and well designed than in e.g. a podcast or blog post. Important drawbacks are they rarely lead to immediate action and they're hard to skim.

Find them
Guess what: The teacher is suuuper-important to me! Even more so than in a live situation because online it's so easy to have the mind drift away so the teacher must fully captivate me for the course to work. The challenge however is that few of my heroes have online courses available so the research I did before ordering my first course, even though it was quite inexpensive, was extensive!

Regarding which platform I use the answer is Udemy but it's not because I've made my research; I just happened to stumble upon a great course during a sale and that has kept me there.

I listen to the course segments in my distracted mode and then revisit them with a pen and paper in a focused manner, if I find them interesting enough.

Why I listen to online courses in my focused mode but not podcasts is because online courses are typically split into small segments of 5-10 minutes packed with information while a podcast can include long irrelevant (but entertaining) sections meaning they might need an hour to communicate the same amount of information a 10 minute course segment does.

My favorite paid course:
Become a learning machine 2.0 by Brandon Hakim

My favorite free course:
7 scientifically proven steps to increase your influence by Vanessa Van Edwards

Share and teach

  • Blog
  • Present/teach
  • Mentor someone
  • Record a video
  • Write an email
When I share knowledge, experiences or ideas with others I feel like I'm always the one learning the most probably because:
  • It forces me to reflect.
  • It forces me to put my own words on things which help them stick.
  • Questions from students, readers etc. can highlight an aspect I've missed or they might bypass an incorrect assumption I've made forcing me to rethink.
An experiment I'd like to try is to learn something with the intention to be able to teach it to someone else. I'd like to see if I could trick myself to learn smarter/more effective this way. To make it more interesting I'd like to compare:
  • Learn the way I normally do
  • Learn with the intention to teach but do nothing with it afterwards
  • Learn with the intention to teach and prepare the teaching material
  • Follow up my learning activity with actually teaching what I just learned
This is to see if the actual action to teach, which can sometimes be time consuming and/or involve boring administration, is necessary or not. If you have experimented with this I'd love to hear about your results.

Other sources

There are obviously other sources and ways to learn than the ones I've brought up but together with the posts about People, Books, Conferences, Doing, Experiments and Reflection I think I've covered most of the ones I use (at least the ones I'm aware of). As a closing note: I did consider adding a chapter about "observation" but I cannot say I use this as an isolated source in a deliberate way so I skipped it.


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