How do people learn on their own?

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GTM
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How do people learn on their own?

Postby GTM » Thu Aug 15, 2013 6:45 pm UTC

Sort of a frustration/jealousy rant, but I do want to know how to improve myself in this regard.

To me it seems like without someone there to lecture you and answer questions during office hours it's impossible to understand things in the first place and make it stick.

Mostly this question sprung up when I noticed that I learned C++ in 1st year (having learned things like Java and Turing in high school), and then they taught advanced things in 2nd year. However, IIRC, they made it up to inheritance, and they never taught more advanced things like pointers to functions, or how to instinctively program with optimizations in mind so you dont have to rewrite code. Even now, years later, I find myself not knowing when, say, it would be more useful to use a linked list instead of an array of structures, and then my code gets messy when I find out I need features of the one I didn't use. Yet, I see these 1st year summer students who already know what these optimizations are, and seem to have a better grasp of it, and even know more advance things that we were never lectured in!

So I assume they learned it on their own, but I feel like without a lecturer, there are just too many holes, variability in explanations, and misunderstandings in terminology. Is there something I'm missing when I'm trying to learn on my own errrrr?

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Dopefish
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Re: How do people learn on their own?

Postby Dopefish » Thu Aug 15, 2013 6:55 pm UTC

I am a big fan of learning on my own through the wonders of video lectures (MIT's OCW is awesome, and youtube has plenty of stuff). Different books/notes of course have varying degrees of scope and quality too, so some books won't cover some things at all, but will go into a lot more detail than a course designed to cover a wider breadth of material. Drawing from multiple sources can be great to reinforce things and occasionally see things from a new perspective.

Actually doing problems and talking to folks (e.g. via forums like these) can also give you experience and exposure to things that may not have come up in whatever source material, which can give you more topics to google and try to figure out. Now, theres plenty of people who have quite literally spent years doing some of this stuff and have PhD's and the like so it can sometimes feel daunting to try to catch up, but as long as you're working at it and learning as you go, you'll eventually pick things up well enough to do whatever you want to be able to do.

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Bakemaster
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Re: How do people learn on their own?

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Aug 17, 2013 6:49 pm UTC

The internet is a great resource for autodidacts and people who want to become autodidacts. This is a great topic for a skill that is well worth developing; I should mention that earlier this year I was hired for a job that I didn't know how to do, purely on the basis of my being confident that I could learn how to do it (plus a resume that supported my ability to teach myself things). So a big part of that job in the time since has been teaching myself Python and SQL and more abstract concepts relating to programming and data warehousing. All you really have to do is have that curiosity and stubbornness that keeps you Googling and reading top questions on StackOverflow and going through tutorials and MOOCs and podcasts and so on.

Some people, to one degree or another, seem to come to the table already having that curiosity and stubbornness. There's a nature vs. nurture question there just begging to distract us from the issue of how you can turn yourself into a successful self-learner.

The key, in my opinion, is to find the right problems. If you want to develop that curiosity and stubbornness, you need problems that fascinate you, irritate you, or in whatever way compel you to solve them. Maybe all you need is the prospect of getting paid - I'm certainly motivated by work and a paycheck - or the right environment, a studio office, or a shared space for co-working (maybe a college campus or library). But to some degree the problems still have to be interesting, all the more because you'll be using the internet as one of your most potent tools, and it happens to also be a great tool for distracting yourself and wasting time and not getting anything done.
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Re: How do people learn on their own?

Postby Vangor » Sun Aug 18, 2013 3:26 am UTC

Curiosity. The internet is too full of resources. There are video and written tutorials, forums to banter about, observations of experiments with whatever field of interest, as well as a host of materials to acquire and tinker around with. Have done this with climbing. Have done this with brewing. Have done this with plumbing. Have done this with vehicle repair. Have done this with a myriad of other topics (the majority of my education on education and the gifted has been on my own). You listen. You do. You observe. You reflect. You repeat.

Obviously there are gaps to university education, else you would be on par with those who come into the program more capable. Stay in courses, but do not expect them to answer your questions.

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Re: How do people learn on their own?

Postby Thesh » Sun Aug 18, 2013 8:01 am UTC

GTM wrote:I find myself not knowing when, say, it would be more useful to use a linked list instead of an array of structures


A lot of this is just practice, but you need to know what your code needs to do, then consider the drawbacks and benefits to each structure. In the case of a linked list vs an array, what benefits does the array have and what benefits does the linked list have? What are the drawbacks?

  • Do you need arbitrary member access? Linked lists are not really an option, use an array
  • Do you want to be able to make a copy? Since arrays occupy a continuous space in memory, this is very fast for an array. The benefits will be less clear if you have to do a deep copy.
  • Is the size of your array static and known before or when it is created? The array will be lighter-weight than a linked list and will be faster to populate.
  • Are you going to need to add and remove elements in the middle of the structure? For an array, this will require shifting memory around, which can be slow, for a linked list this simply involves updating a reference or two.
  • Do you need to hold references to elements in the structure? In linked lists, you can guarantee the address of each member does not change. In arrays, resizing could change the location of each member, and inserting in the middle definitely will. In this case, use a linked list.
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Moach
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Re: How do people learn on their own?

Postby Moach » Sat Oct 12, 2013 11:45 pm UTC

As far as self-teaching goes for me: I think it's called "Google"

and 90% of the time, it leads to wikipedia.

Most times it works like a charm. Still, I remember having a terribly tough time trying to teach myself C++ (i.e. failed miserably on several attempts)

It was only once I got to taking an actual course on this curiously hard-to-grasp language, the reason for why I failed to teach myself on it became clearly evident:
Start by teaching yourself 'C'

most of the countless C++ tutorials and online resources will either work from the assumption that you're coming from C, or more often than not, will leave you without a proper foundation by somehow skipping over it. I have not found any material that can reasonably clarify C++ to any workable extend without relying on any C background

As for me, I'd say: You simply cannot learn C++ without at least a little bit of C first - Once you get this "historical side" of it in your head, then C++ almost magically starts to make sense.

And then, make sure you have something to apply your newly acquired skills on that's of some personal meaning to you. For instance: When I took my first course in C++, I started developing an addon spaceship for the Orbiter Space Flight Simulator. I was very enthusiastic about this, Hance: Everything covered in the classroom was immediately related to something I had been already puzzling about. 'Lessons' became essentially 'Answers' because of that.


true story! :roll: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

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Re: How do people learn on their own?

Postby Jorpho » Wed Oct 16, 2013 4:29 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:The key, in my opinion, is to find the right problems. If you want to develop that curiosity and stubbornness, you need problems that fascinate you, irritate you, or in whatever way compel you to solve them. Maybe all you need is the prospect of getting paid - I'm certainly motivated by work and a paycheck - or the right environment, a studio office, or a shared space for co-working (maybe a college campus or library). But to some degree the problems still have to be interesting, all the more because you'll be using the internet as one of your most potent tools, and it happens to also be a great tool for distracting yourself and wasting time and not getting anything done.
I agree; it's all a matter of finding the right incentive. I further speculate that it is easier to do so while one is young and more capable of ignoring the yawning existential void.

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Bakemaster
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Re: How do people learn on their own?

Postby Bakemaster » Thu Oct 17, 2013 3:53 am UTC

For what it's worth, I was much less capable of that in my teens than I am now.
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