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What do you feel sucks the most when learning something new on the internet?
11 points by rgonzalez 1598 days ago | hide | past | web | 26 comments | favorite
Assuming you have time to learn something new. A new topic you know nothing about. Not to deepen your understanding of a topic.

And that it is by yourself, not classroom learning. That is, self-teaching. In the process of going:

From: "I want to learn X" (e.g. Spanish, Arduino, Rails, How to build a startup?, How to play guitar?) To: "This is the resource/link/blog/book I am going to use to learn"

What's your biggest frustration? What do you hate the most?

Would love to chat beyond here, DM (@rjgonzo) me if you want to chat some more later.

The biggest problem for me always seems to be figuring out what I need to know, rather than finding the resources themselves. For instance, assume you want to learn how to make a simple web app, and have no experience or background in programming, CS, databases, etc. Figuring out where to start and how the puzzle fits together can be really daunting.

You start googling but can't figure out how it all fits together. Javascript, Ruby, Ajax, Python, Rails, Django, Flask, MySQL, heroku, html, css, jquery, bootstrap, appengine, aws, servers, browsers, APIs??? It takes some time to figure out what things even are when you are taking your first steps. Once you realize you pretty much need to know a bit of HTML to make a website, finding a suitable tutorial, while sometimes frustrating, isn't all that hard.

Most people here know how these technologies fit together, but as a beginner I didn't. It took some (frustrating) time to learn how the puzzle pieces fit together, what is optional, what is new, what is proven... etc.

This problem isn't isolated to programming. I think this is a big problem for a ton of self directed online learning. Lets say you convince yourself you would like to become the next Satriani on Guitar, but don't know what scales, triads, or chords are let alone how they are built. Should I concentrate on technique drills, songs, improvization, theory? I have met a huge amount of people who get very intimidated and end out just learning to play songs from guitar tabs, and never progress from a very superficial beginnner level.

Perhaps it is a result of people not wanting to dive in until they can put together a basic mental model of how things work. Regardless, the "roadmap to expertise" problem seems to be real and discouraging for people not willing to just power through it. Can teachers and Tutors be relpaced in providing the direction through the weeds? I'm not sure, but surely solving this problem could be lucrative.

Awesome feedback! And I understand, my background is on computer engineering and even sometimes when starting to learn about something completely new that I had not done before (e.g. web-services/mobile), despite my previous knowledge or background, it can be frustrating. So, how could we fix this?

What was your process to figure it out? What did you search for? Where did you search it? Did you ask someone?

I have been thinking about this problem for a while, but I'm still not really sure how to solve it. I somewhat like the idea of a site with broad topics which narrow down into steps and tutorials, or links to tutorials. I'm not sure if this would really work.

I think I just read, googled, youtubed, and forumed my way out of the box. Surely this can't be the best way.

Agreed. I think the web has insane amount of good resources for pretty much most topics - but knowing what to learn is hard.

It would be awesome, if I can go to a site and say "this is what I want to do, now tell me what I need to learn to achieve it, and the resources needed".

Agreed; it's hard to figure out the right questions to ask.

What might be helpful is a place I could go to that has broad but thorough overviews of topics, where I could learn what I need to learn. Or what my options are.

I understand what you are saying but just to get a better feeling for what you are thinking about, could you give me an example:

If you wanted to learn X, what would be the next kind of answers/sub-topics/topics you would like to get exposed to?

I think these two commentators (TillE and hodder) have put into words what I have been grappling for many weeks now. And I give can you a specific example.

I've been trying to learn about GUIs and cloud computing. For GUIs, for weeks now I've been saying I know how to program, but I have no idea how I can make something visual. I used Processing, and that was excellent, but then it turned out that it wasn't what I needed (there was no 'delete', so if I rendered a circle, I couldn't delete it). I also looked into Quartz Composer and I thought it was called ngraphics, but Google isn't showing anything called that. It was a Graphics Library for C++. I even installed a VM and Linux (I had to learn how to install a VM and Linux) to try some open-source software instead of trying to learn about GUIs, but that didn't suit my needs either.

So that's GUIs. The other one is cloud computing. I want, say a website and an app, and I want them to submit a form, then the server would do some calculations with these forms and then send back the calculations. I have nothing to say about this. I have no idea where to start. I don't know what this is called. I don't know what to Google.

But having these two people put into words what I have been grappling with is a huge relief. I think I will take a step back and re-evaluate my situation.

Definitely. Meta-learning is something that's tough. Recently I enrolled into CodeSchool.com and there are lots of interesting sounding tutorials. I code in Python and want to be more proficient in web development, the problem I face is, okay, where should I start?

Another example is, if I learned programming in python, what do I do to get to the next level?

1) Best audio/video lectures on a topic, itunes u has some great lectures, but discoverability is awful. Close to impossible to find good cotent.

2) Find what I don't know from content which mostly covers stuff I already know. Normally when I'm reading something I probably know 90% of it already, but I have to read that 90% anyway to find out what that remaining 10% is.

1) Why is discoverability awful? How would you change/improve it?

2) So a tool/place that takes into consideration what you already know and gives you suggestions on what your next steps should be would help you on your learning process?

1) Try it and see (pick a topic like "pyschology" or "linguistics" and try to find the best introductory course).

It's broken in pretty much every way possible, you can't sort the content by ratings or popularity, you can't browse by lecturer/publisher, there's no recommendation system, there's virtually nothing to distinguish between lectures on the same topic, some have awful sound recording but you have no way to know unless you listen to them, etc.

2) I think the more fundamental problem is that knowledge generally isn't available in small discrete chunks but rather in books, lectures, etc.

Material with no dates, software version numbers, etc., so that it's hard to tell whether information is obsolete or not.

Topics that are difficult to search for (D, Processing, ...).

Lack of mid-level information. (Say I want to learn to build websites. I can easily find, "HTML tags begin with '<'". I can also easily find, "Here's the bestest, coolest CSS grid." Quality tutorials at a level between these two are much rarer. Similarly, "to output in Python, use 'print'" vs. "Here's how to optimize your Django-based site." But in between ... ?)

Video tutorials for anything that doesn't involve physical action. (Give me a video to teach me how to ride a unicycle, but not how Newtonian mechanics works. How to type, yes, but not how to code.)

Video without subtitles/transcript.

Audio-only for anything at all. Ick.

A significant amount of what is written on the Internet seems to cater to the extremes of opinion. Therefore it can often be difficult to find something rational, well thought out and considered. This makes analysis of subjects very difficult because there is no moderate voice or that voice gets drowned out by the extremists.

A second issue is that a good many articles online that profess to be teaching something cite no sources whatsoever. As a lawyer I find it very difficult to move past that, and even if the content seems good, I'll immediately be put off using that source to learn from.

What if every resource on the web was put to the test against a community? Rather than just existing, a community would have to sort-of approve you in order to be relevant on a certain topic?

What if that resource was somehow validated/curated by people that have used it before? Or was submitted by an expert that topic? Would you be more willing to give that resource a try?


We have that already, though (StackOverflow).

What if you wanted to learn something that is not related to programming? What if you wanted to know the best books/blogs/etc to learn how to make awesome tutorial videos?

Where do you usually go in that case (for validated/curated resources)?

(And event on SO these kind of questions get closed down. Some get protected, but is only after they get significant traffic. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1711/what-is-the-single-m...)

Quora was awesome until their privacy fiascos.

For me, the biggest problem is going past beginner and becoming intermediate at something. It always seems like the lists of curated resources are targeted towards either beginners or advanced, never in between.

Not being able to ask questions one-on-one to someone who knows it, has been through it before, because in my experience, a lot of leaps in learning happen when someone explains something from a different point of view. And no, IRC is not good enough.

Finding resources used to be a problem, but it's mostly not any more. And I can't really learn anything well from just one resource. I like to drink from many wells.

"Finding resources used to be a problem, but it's mostly not any more" Why is it not a problem any more?

How many wells usually?

At least for the things I'm interested in (programming, music, cooking, marketing), there are plenty of good reputable sites and apps with high quality content. Google, Youtube and Stack Overflow are a good starting point. Now there's also Udemy, Coursera, Udacity etc.

Could finding resources be better? Of course! Everything can be improved.

But if your question is what's the most difficult part of my learning, then honestly it's not finding material. It's getting over the roadblocks in the journey.

I have thought of this problem a lot, and I can sense that you may have already formed an idea around making a better search or discovery tool. That's an easy one for programmers to fall for. But just because it seems doable, it doesn't mean it's the most important problem to solve.

For example, before Khan Academy came around, no techies really understood that one of the most important things in learning is simply good material. No amount of cool tools and search engines will help you unless you have good content to begin with.

I don't really have a problem finding the material either for a topic I am somewhat familiar with. Might take some time, might take discerning over more than a few resources on the web. But I do find it. However my point is what you just said, good material is important. And the tools for finding the material search the whole internet which has a bunch of useless stuff. And thus cost me sometime I rather spent elsewhere.

Your sense is correct. But is not around the idea of a search engine. Is about a tool/place that only has good material. Relevant, validated, curated material. Would something like that help you?

Do you feel just as confortable finding the material for a completely new topic as you do for when you are looking for something you know and you are only trying the deepen your knowledge regarding that topic?

Relevant, validated, curated material.

The sites I mentioned above are already doing that. Plus I also like to curate material on my own.

Only two things would really help me -

1. You create more amazing content for things I'm interested in learning.

2. You connect me to people who can answer my stupid questions when I get stuck - in real-time. Any delay just kills motivation.

Questions on forums that are responded to by the OP with "Nevermind. Got it."

Thanks for helping the rest of us with the same problem, you jackasses! :P

Time, lack of time really, because man o man i can get caught up and obsessed once I'm trying to learn something new

Sounds like you're up to something similar to an idea that I've been batting around for a while. Best of luck!

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