Learning in the New Age

"I just don't have the time!" seems to be the constant refrain of our generation. We have an abundance of gadgets and facilities to simplify our lives; pressure cookers that can steam rice in 4 minutes, hair dryers to dry hair in a jiffy, ATMs for instant cash withdrawals , websites that facilitate online bill payments, to online banking, and what not, yet we complain of less and less time each day. And then there's the ever-evolving technology world. You download and install CTP, then download and install a beta and even as you are trying to understand the beta, the RTM version of the software is out and you need to repeat the "download, install, learn" procedure all over again. And if there are many breaking changes between the CTP and RTM, then you are in for a steeper learning curve. In the midst of all this, you also need to learn N different technologies and cannot be content with just one. Often your workplace demands one set of skills/technologies while your personal hobbies/interests may lie elsewhere (for example, .NET developers who work on Ruby-based personal projects). So again all this means more learning. As already mentioned, time is the one factor that's a huge shortage these days. So how do you optimize your time for learning? This article attempts to share some pointers in this regard.

  • Leverage Technology: Use technology to learn technology. Make use of e-books, PDFs, online articles, and sundry other web-based resources to speed up your learning. Hands-on labs are a great resource to gain practical skills in a short time. Look out for websites that offer free e-books or sample chapters.

    Read and Learn: Read blogs written by experts and MVPs in the field that you are interested in. They are one of the most useful resources today. For example, if you are keen on SQL Server, you should follow Pinal Dave's blog (blog.sqlauthority.com), for SQL Azure, you should follow Dhananjay Kumar's blog (
    http://debugmode.net//), and if you are keen on Silverlight and related technologies, you should follow Kunal Chowdhury's blog (www.kunal-chowdhury.com/). These are just few names, there are 100's of others that are really worth reading.
     
  • Watch and Learn: In this technology age, reading from heavy, bulky books or attending classroom trainings is becoming difficult to achieve. Here's where self-paced courses can help. Subscribe to self-paced e-learning collections from vendors such as Microsoft, Lynda.com, VTC, and others. They help you learn at your own pace, as and when you get free time, any day of the week, and also impart information in a manner easy to understand. Ample graphics and animations are included in the courses to make your learning experience fun and interesting.

    Silverlight TV by John Papa is a great resource for some quick learning sessions

    Microsoft Silverlight snacks are short videos on various topics such as Windows 7, cloud computing, virtualization and so on.
     
  • Listen and Learn: Too busy to read, or even watch? Try podcasts then. Podcasts and audiobooks are a big rage now, because you can plug in to your earphones and listen even you are busy driving, commuting, or doing some similar activity. Some .NET based podcasts are:

    www.sparklingclient.com/

    www.hanselminutes.com/

    www.jesseliberty.com/podcast/
     
  • Follow and learn: Thanks to social networking, today, you have greater access to experts who were earlier available only on e-mail. Now, all you need to do is get their facebook id or Twitter handle and send them a message. Most often, they reply instantly. Also, by following the experts in specific areas via Twitter, you can keep yourself updated as they tweet regularly on what they are working on or what new tips they found, and so on. LinkedIn.com has various useful .NET based groups who participate in discussions.

    See

    http://www.linkedin.com/

    http://www.twitter.com/

    http://www.facebook.com/
     
  • Link Blogs: Among all that I listed so far, link blogs are my favorite medium to know what's hot, what's newly released, what articles are written by top developers, and so on. What's a link blog? It gathers many links on interesting topics, say in the .NET field for example, and publishes all of them together as a blog post, with brief descriptions for each link.

    Some popular link blogs are:

    http://jasonhaley.com/blog/

    http://blog.cwa.me.uk/

    http://vidmar.net/weblog/

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/alfredth/archive/2011/05/23/interesting-links-23-may-2011.aspx

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/brian_swan/archive/2011/05/20/this-week-s-link-list-may-20-2011.aspx

    http://www.alvinashcraft.com/

These are but a few suggestions in which you can optimize your learning in minimal time, there can be many more. Do share your ideas here through comments on what else you can use for learning in the new age.

Happy Learning!