How can I learn effectively on my own? In particular:
- What should you do while information is being communicated?
- What should you do after the information is received?
- What should you do after step 2?
- How do you dive deep into a concept without losing your way?
1. What should you do while information is being communicated?
I would, on a piece of paper, work out any examples that are presented in the video or textbook section. If there’s a step that you don’t understand in a video or textbook, pause and think about it. If you still can’t figure it out, do some google searches to look for explanations and/or worked examples from different resources. And if you still can’t figure it out after that, then draw a star next to the place where the step occurs and continue onwards with instructional material, putting a star next to any other places where that step is used. Sometimes a different example will help clarify your understanding. If that happens, you can go back to the places you starred and check if you understand them now. If so, then erase the stars. If you still have any stars by the time you get to the end of the content, and you haven’t been able to resolve those confusions by thinking or Google searching, then ask a question about it on some forum like StackExchange or Reddit.
2. What should you do after the information is received?
Work out more practice problems. Following along with worked examples is good for building some initial familiarity but you don’t really know stuff well enough to continue building on it until you can comfortably work out practice problems on your own. The number of practice problems to do kind of depends on how much was covered in the video or textbook section and how many categories of problems there are, but loosely speaking, you should work out problems in each category until you’ve gotten at least 2 or 3 correct in a row and you’re comfortable and confident that you could successfully complete another problem if you kept going. At that point, it’s time to move on to the next category. Once you get through all the categories, it’s time to move on to the next video or textbook section.
3. What should you do after step 2?
Once you can comfortably work out practice problems, go on to the next video or textbook section and go back to step 1. However, you should also make sure to do review problems from prior sections once in a while. As a rough rule of thumb, every time you do a review, you can double the length of time until the next review. So if you learn a new thing on day 1, then you should review it on days 2, 4, 8, 16, 32. When you review, you need to make sure to work out actual problems, not just re-read. (This is of course a loose approximation – you don’t have to get the review schedule perfect, but you do need to get the “spirit” of it right in the sense that you should review stuff again soon after learning it, and continue reviewing it into the future every once in a while, but you can wait longer between reviews as you grow more comfortable with it. However, if you’re ever looking through topics to review and your reaction to some topic is “I barely remember that, but I don’t really want to review it now, I’ll come back to it later” then that actually means you need to review it right now. When you run into situations like that, don’t wait. If you ever feel yourself forgetting something, especially things that come up again in future textbook sections or lectures, then that’s an indication you’re due for a review.)
4. How do you dive deep into a concept without losing your way?
The key is to find a nicely structured curriculum. This is one reason why Wikipedia isn’t a great substitute for a textbook – if you dive deep into something on Wikipedia, it’s really easy to get “lost in the weeds,” i.e. getting way too far in the advanced details than is necessary. If you follow a curriculum in a textbook or video series like MIT-OCW then that should keep you on track and prevent you from getting lost in irrelevant details that would otherwise distract you on Wikipedia.