In our last webinar discussion, Bastien (@bzg), raised a piercing question, which I'll take the liberty of paraphrasing:
Learning about learning sounds great, but how can I ensure that I'm not wasting time by fiddling about like Emacs users tend to do with their configuration files when they could be programming instead? i.e. how can I ensure forward progress toward my goals?
Toward the end of the talk, Bastien pointed out that social expectations by our peers can help motivate us to reach the goals we set and publish to our peers. Some people call this "social productivity," and Bastien referred to it as "social commitment" to what you are learning. I'm open to trying this, but I also want to understand the nature of motivation at a fundamental level to address motivation's other constituent factors, in addition to the social element.
Regarding motivation's fundamentals, I recently learned about the procrastination equation, which I think is a helpful framework for understanding how to make internal and external adjustments to a broad range of motivational factors.
So, how can we know when we are spinning our wheels versus making traction toward our goals when learning about learning?
Firstly, I think we need a good foundation, such as the Learning How to Learn course by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski. Beyond that the choices are nearly infinite, so how do we find our footing, i.e. where should we start?
Why not choose something related to the most important goal I have in my life. Big rocks first! If I can't figure out what it is I want, I start by asking myself these questions:
What mustn't I experience? This question helps identify an axis of movement. Let's get as far away from this experience as efficiently as possible. Some think of this as the brand enemy, but I never did like that expression. Maybe there's a better expression out there?
What must I experience?
What should I experience?
What could I experience?
These questions work from an external perspective as well.
What mustn't the customer experience? etc.
or What mustn't the project experience? etc.
My present process, which is heavily experimental, for design, for computer programming, for running out a rack of 9-ball, etc. is described in the next few paragraphs.
First I break the rack (problem/goal) up into pieces to let my brain take in the whole problem and its principal parts. I just look at it. Then I think about it until I get comfortable with it.
Then I figure out which piece makes the most sense as a starting point. I find this to be a critical step. When looking at a project, there's usually at least one mission-critical task on which the success of the project hinges. My first steps should be strategically geared to address that problem from the best vantage point in the future. Where do I want to be when I get to that stage of the project?
Let me give you a concrete example, which will also serve to provide transparency around my motivations for helping others learn to program. Three to five years from now I want to start-up a software company, possibly with partners. Looking at the pieces of that project, it appears to me that the key to success is finding competent programmers who possess a skillset which is harmonious with the Clojure paradigm. The industry already has a massive gap between the high number of available jobs and the relatively low number of available candidates. This gap is projected to widen. My strategy for solving this problem is to help hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people learn to program by improving the curriculum and by connecting up new programmers with more experienced developers and software architects. My hope is that at least one or two of the people I help, or that help me, will enjoy working with me enough to want to collaborate professionally. On each project, I think "How can we get further, faster, together, than we ever could apart?" Obviously, the answer has a lot to do with our shared goals and values. Hence, The Value of Learning.
Playing a game of 9-ball or 8-ball, using the "three balls ahead" pattern I describe next, without identifying the critical roadblock which lies ahead is practically useless. And so it is with project management. I need to get the ladder against the appropriate wall before I climb it.
I like to figure out at least three steps, and always have at least, but not many more than three ordered steps identified. When I complete step 1, I now have only two steps, 1 and 2. What's my new third step? Okay, now that I have a new step 3, I'll start working on the 1st step, which was originally the 2nd step.
If I fail to do this and I complete all three steps, I sometimes hit a creative block here. I expend more energy getting started on a fresh set of three steps than I have would just figuring out the next new step.
When I follow this pattern, my brain constantly has a sense of direction without being overwhelmed by too many steps. This narrow set of ordered steps helps it know what future items are most important to work on, both consciously at work but also subconsciously, while awake and during a nap or nocturnal sleep. Three steps fit nicely into our working four slots of working memory for when we play around with the ideas mentally while doing laundry or shooting hoops.
When other tasks become apparent, I document them in a Backlog category. I place delegated items into a Waiting category with a reminder of when to follow-up with that person for a progress report.
I'm continuing to experiment with this simple recipe for breaking big problems down into smaller problems. The key benefit is that I feel a constant sense of high motivation and consistent progress.
This process can be applied at a high level, such as Mission, all the way down to tasks and even subtasks. I Just keep breaking things down until I feel excited to start on a task. If I'm feeling motivated and I'm getting things done, I'm happy.
The desire to share this feeling of motivation is why I'm so eager to innovate curriculum paths in education so that more people can feel great about their daily progress too! Imagine if our curriculum paths could be reviewed by ourselves and others, just like review toasters or books on Amazon? By sharing the details of our respective paths and our successes and struggles, we can improve everyone's learning experiences and outcomes.
These curriculum path reviews act as a tight feedback loop on books, videos, courses, curriculum path segments and entire paths. This feedback loop helps the student look back and others look forward, based on that learner's experience and the community's response to their experience.
So how does all of this connect up? We collect student histories and learning outcomes as part of the curriculum path data format mentioned in our talk The Value of Learning slide Machine Readable Curriculum Paths. So we know the student's background, and we know their goals. Aha! Now we can compare our own background and goals to that of others, even programmatically!
I'll run through the process described above for my Power Hour work soon and share the results as a reply to this topic, so stay tuned if this topic piques your curiosity.