Learning something new can be daunting. To be a successful web designer or developer, one must be thirsty for knowledge and be aggressive at trying new things. Most particularly, one must be accustomed to letting go of technologies dear to them (as in programming languages, software, tools, processes, etc.).
I'll give you an example. Back in the day, it was a big challenge for me to switch from designing with tables to table-less layouts with CSS. Everything I knew about web design revolved around building tables for everything. I was designing with tables for nearly a decade before CSS layouts became a thing; it was engraved onto my brain. To adopt table-less layouts meant completely changing the way I approached web design. Eventually, CSS layouts sunk in, but it took a good bit of effort to cross that mountain.
Throughout the years I've picked up on a few tactics that have worked for me to help push me to adopt new technologies. Maybe they can help you too.
1. View it like a game
Ever played a game where there was a tough level or tough boss that you just had to beat? You kept persisting, trying over and over to win. It helps to learn something new if you approach the challenge like approaching a tough game.
When I was trying to learn jQuery it was really frustrating me that I couldn't type it from memory. I hated constantly referencing my notes. I hated constantly hitting roadblocks as I tried to type up a script from scratch. The “game” I challenged myself with was to memorize jQuery so that I could type it by hand without help from my notes.
2. Turn it into a side project
The best way to learn anything in the shortest amount of time is to incorporate it into a side project. Furthermore, this side project absolutely MUST be something fun!! If the project isn't fun then you'll have trouble absorbing what you've learned.
For web designers and developers, the easiest type of side project is a portfolio website or a blog. In my case, I wanted to learn how to make a parallax animated website since parallax is all the rage these days. I decided to refresh my portfolio website with a cool parallax design. It was a fun challenge.
3. Get a new toy
A new toy is a perfect excuse to jump into learning something new. For example, with the excitement of a new laptop, you might be looking for excuses to use it more. Why not focus on learning something new with it? Use it to catch up on the new programming language or the new Adobe application everyone is talking about.
Or how about if you got a new phone, perhaps the new Samsung Galaxy Note? That would be the perfect excuse to get into Android development, by using your new phone as a testing device. Hate Android? Then use your iPhone as a testing device for learning iOS development.
Don't limit yourself to devices. Maybe jumping into Mac OSX or Linux (if you haven't tried them already) will give you enough “new toy hype” to inspire you to learn a new technology.
4. Crowdsource for encouragement
As humans, we are social creatures. Self-motivation can only take us so far, especially if the technology we're learning is daunting. It really helps to get friends, family, or co-workers involved with your learning progress. Their encouragement is like a breath of fresh air as you push yourself to learn that new technology. There are many ways you can go about it. Here are a few:
- A co-worker is the best person to involve since they're more likely to understand and appreciate what you're learning. Maybe you can even convince your co-worker to be your study buddy to learn the same technology. A bit of competition helps a great deal.
- Try posting your learning progress on social media for encouragement. Most of your friends probably won't care to see you post something about programming. But if you think creatively you can approach your post in a way a non-technical person would appreciate.
- Join a Facebook or LinkedIn group with like-minded tech professionals who might appreciate your learning progress.
- Try starting a blog to post your learning progress. It could double as a means to archive your notes.
5. Take notes
I know, this one sounds like common sense. But it's common sense few people take into practice. Back in school, we were accustomed (or required) to take notes, but once graduated it becomes an unnecessary practice for many. Taking notes is a powerful way to learn something new. When you write something down it sticks in your head better.
For note-taking, I recommend Google Docs, Evernote, or Office Online. Since those services are on the cloud you can take your notes with you everywhere you go and you'll never lose them. Whether you're learning new technology via video tutorials or books, it helps a great deal to always take notes.
6. Setup a PLN
Setting up a PLN (personal learning network) helps a great deal in learning something new. In addition to a side project (as I mentioned above), a PLN is another shortcut to learn something in the shortest amount of time possible. Basically, with a PLN you're setting up a means to follow several leading professionals in your industry. It's extremely helpful to be informed about the latest news, tools, and resources on the technology you're trying to learn. I wrote a detailed article on how to setup a PLN. The article is oriented around marketing, but the practice can be applied to any genre.
In this article, I discussed ways to learn new technology from viewing it like a game, by turning it into a side project, via a new toy, by crowdsourcing for encouragement, by taking notes, and by setting up a PLN. You might fall into one of these scenarios:
- Maybe you're a graphic designer who finds Adobe's new Muse and Edge Reflow daunting.
- Maybe you're a web designer who views programming apps for iOS and Android daunting.
- Maybe you're a programmer who finds transitioning to an MVC framework daunting.
Whatever the case, we all have a technology that we feel we should learn but we procrastinate because it looks difficult or too time-consuming. The ocean of new technology can be overwhelming. Hopefully, with my tips discussed in this article you have some things to try to help you learn something new.