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Ask HN: What are the obstacles to learning on your own?
14 points by ph0rque on Sept 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments
There’s never been more great content available for free (or at very low cost) to teach yourself anything you’d ever want to know (the MVC JS framework of the week, Mandarin, string theory, string instruments, juggling) BUT the fact is we don’t learn everything we’d want to know.

Why is that?

Sean (https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=SnootyMonkey) and I are passionate self-learners, and we struggle with this too. We have ideas (and prototypes) for a couple solutions that might go a long way towards helping self-learners overcome their obstacles, but we want to validate that we’re on the right track.

If you regularly try to learn stuff on your own we’d love to learn about your learning routine and obstacles. What makes it hard to start learning something new? What slows you down? What makes it harder than it should be? What makes you give up when you do?

If you only have a moment for us, leave a comment here.

If you have up to 5 minutes, please take our very short survey here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1UXZygDbvjSyDhWpUxYPMUN-_7F01svwRuHU3bKMNAKc/viewform

If you have more than 5 minutes, we’d love to chat with you over Skype / Google Hangout / phone call / smoke signals / face-to-face (you can tell us you’re willing at the end of the survey).

Thanks! Happy learning.




I can't find resources at my current level of expertise (they are either too hard or too easy)

that's a big one for me. I am in the process of trying this out, and it seems to be working: Practice, every day, for any amount of time, even if it is just for 30 seconds.

beginning French, advanced Javascript, beginning piano, advanced rails, and Im also working my way through the harvard classics.

I made a schedule of daily reading/doing, I shoot for 30 minutes for every subject (not daily, but pretty close), but I will at LEAST put in 1 minute.

One of the pain points was learning, what to learn first. Ie, a resource that said, here is the "must reads" to learn french, or piano would have saved me a bunch of time.


There's basically two things I've found that put up obstacles for me - 1) not being focused on the task at hand and 2) having expectations of how things will turn out.

For the first one, once you give into those little temptations to distract yourself, it's much more difficult to get back on track than if you just ignored it in the first place. If you start to let yourself get distracted daily, you'll build bad habits that prevent you from staying on task. I know cause I've been there before.

For the 2nd point, expectations can be a HUGE obstacle especially when they go unfulfilled. People who are only working on something because of where it will take them and not enjoying the work at the moment, I think, have a very difficult time staying motivated on the task. Because if the expectation isn't coming, then it becomes harder and harder to stick with something.

I've put together a course to try to address these points and others that I see programmers commonly having a difficult time with. If you'd like to check it out, it's at https://www.programmingspiritually.com/


1) Lack of desire. A lot of people don't have a desire to learn things on their own.

2) Lack of time. A lot of people are students or have jobs, and their free time is already taken up. Also, people need large chunks of time to Download the Task - http://www.collegeanswerz.com/downloading-the-task.

3) Poor resources. See http://www.collegeanswerz.com/rethinking-education for how to make it better. My plan is to make money with that website, and then start to implement these ideas with a Big Push.


It's the same reason I don't exercise, eat right, pay my bills on time, finish work, plant my garden, and more: Self-Discipline. If you can solve that problem, you will improve humanity more than the wheel & fire together.



This. 100%. Self-Discipline.

Making a game plan, Keeping a schedule, completing your projects.

Man cannot remake himself without suffering - For he is both the marble and sculptor. -Alexis Carrel


Hint: It's something to do with the ability to focus on what is important at the right moment in time.


After an actual desire to learn (which several others here have mentioned), the biggest obstacle to learning is bad teachers. I don't want my teacher to be a vast self-curated backwater of internet tutorials and apps. I don't even want options to customize my learning. I want an opinionated, sassy domain expert who inspires me, pushes me, and clearly delights in the subject.

Examples: http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~hooft101/theorist.html (thanks tokenadult) http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.asp... http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/e/index.html

If you had a learning website built around teachers rather than subjects, I would definitely check that out.


We are working on just such a website actually. It's why we are trying to learn more about what people are dealing with. We're hoping to put a tool into experts' hands that lets them curate, organize and sequence the wealth of information out there to best show the path for someone to gain proficiency.

Sound interesting?


Yes, absolutely!

Are you thinking a curated list of curators, or a social network where anyone can be an expert? Or something in between?

It's great you're tackling the whole learning frontier


Initially we are implementing it as a curated list of curators. Unclear where it'll go long term.


Excellent question. I would answer this question from system perspective. What are the challenges faced by existing online learning solution.

There are problems with the learners itself and there are problems with existing solutions.

Problem with learner: 1. Not being self Regulation

Existing Solution problems: 2. Different mental make up of user but similar intervention for all. 3. Challenges in Learning interventions discovery

Lets go in detail: 1. Regulation results into failure of self discipline. We are conditioned to be externally regulated and not internally. Our current system have conditioned that there would be someone who will tell them what to do. Be our school system or our parents. They will prevent us from doing something wrong or tell us what is the right thing to do. What we need is to make students feel they are responsible for their own decision and action. When you feel responsible for your action, you take things seriously. You get self disciplined. (Learned partially from: Paul Kim)(Reports on not using system regularly or in a disciplined way)

2. Different mental make up. We all are wired differently, but the courses offered are from one perspective in one way only. Every learner has a different level of understanding, learning gaps, misconception and learning style (MI theory by howard garnder) But courses today treats them same way. There might be a student struggling to learn compare fractions because he doesnt understand LCM. System needs to first dissect a learner to understand what he needs to learn and how he learns best and then offer the most effective learning intervention. That brings me to the last point.

3. Learning intervention: How do we find the right intervention for the student. There are lots of learning content online. Lots of curated content also available. But finding the content that suits me is a painstaking process. I have to keep trying till I find the right content.

I hope you guys find this useful. You can reach me at @aakashbarot if I can be of any help further.


Some thoughts:

Lack of motivation, i.e. Absence of "burning need" to learn the stuff at hand. Also, inability to visualize the end-result/reward.

Trying to look at the task as whole than in smaller parts: i.e. looking at a 720 pages, mostly text-only O'reilly programming book.

Multitasking: Checking news feeds, twitter and trying to learn/code/read simultaneously.

Distractions: people around, location, short attention span.

Not able to get into the zone/flow: This usually happens when,

goals are not clear

feedback is not immediate

lack of balance between opportunity and capacity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

Appropriate reward and feedback system is really important in learning.As per some studies, it relates to certain neurotransmitters in the brain i.e. dopamine.


I don't think there's a technical solution to this problem. I'd love to be proven wrong.

The only thing that makes self learning remotely manageable is to break up your goals in to manageable chunks.

Half the solution to self-motivation is deriving a satisfaction from completing goals.

If you set your goals reasonable, it obviously isn't a silver bullet, but it helps ALOT.


I dont think there is lack of good resources on internet. If you are learning new thing, you have to struggle a bit initially and if you do not give up during initial struggle, then things become very very easy after that. Internet is wonderful. You can find all kinds of content.


Eventually you will need help from someone unless you're a genius who can figure out and have all the time of the world to wonder it.


Self education is not about not getting help from anyone, and learning everything from first principles. You read a book... you're getting help from the author. You don't have to be a genius and have all the time in the world to learn to juggle, or to garden, or to read Esperanto. You won't learn any of that from first principles, but you don't need to go to school and sit in a classroom either.


OK, I have been doing just that. Trust me it's not easy to learn on your own. The mistake's I'v made have cost me greatly And you run into things that seem to have no answer. Like this...Why does the date on my Dell dimension 4600i SM BIOS only move in even number's"month and day" together??? How in the world do I get around that??



The fact is there are no obstacles that prevent self learning, Young generation lacks -passion -creativity -enthusiasm -self motivation

Nowadays you can get any information in micro-seconds, so people don't know the value of information.

Don't ever expect anything happen overnight




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