Learning from experience 2: Experimentation

The major thing that has held me back when it comes to learning is not the discovery of new things to learn (I am all about discovery and new ideas) but rather the willingness or bravery to try my newly learnt things out in practice. I guess it might be because I am Swedish.

The second behaviour to learn by experience is to experiment and test your new skills – did you learn how to say Hello in Chinese yesterday? Go practice in your closest Chinese restaurant! If you just learned how to swim – plan a vacation to the ocean. Give yourself ample opportunity to try your new skills in new contexts and environments.

Experimentation should be the easy part of learning – that is all you need to do is to try, alter and test new combinations of what you have learnt. However, like me, a lot of people often hold themselves back because of fear of failing in their experiments – without thinking that failing is exactly what the experimentation phase is about.

There is a catch though – as in science, if you want your experiments to really count they need to be observed by someone else. Sitting alone in your bedroom trying to pronounce “你好” is of course better than just reading it in a book – however it will not a chinese speaker make.

When I was around 13-14 I learnt a lot of programming through experimenting by myself, I read all the books on programming in my local library and in the end manage to rack up the knowledge of how to write programs in 9 or 10 different programming languages. However, it wasn’t until my first programming job that I learnt about how to really make software. In this job I experimented a lot too (I was way in over my head – but I managed it) but now I had the eyes of the rest of the team on me – something that both gave me insight to my errors and my successes.

To conclude, make a habit, for each of the things that you are learning to write down 1-3 situations where you – in the presence of other people – can try this skill or knowledge out. Wether it’s a pub quiz night, the local Chinese restaurant or dinner out on town – just make sure you go public with your skill as soon as you can – if you fail, just try again.

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