Hello and welcome to the autodidactic podcast Season 2, Episode 13. This is the last episode in this season. I decided I would spend a little time telling you what I will be doing over the next few months with regards to my own self-study plans and what my plans are for this podcast.
Hopefully you’ll be able to take something from my plans in order to use for yourself and you’re own autodidactic study.
I’m currently focusing on five main areas for self-study.
- Learning new programming languages
- Learning natural languages
- Learning maths
- Learning electronics
- Lock picking
The two programming languages I’m focusing on are assembly language for the ARM processor, and Rust. A lot of listeners will not be familiar with these but they are low level programming languages which are very helpful when programming computers. The reason for learning these is that they are closely related to one of my other learning projects which is electronics. Learning all three of these topics at the same time tends to reinforce each other. Understanding the electronics and logic chips used to build a computer, helps to understand the syntax and usage of both assembly programming and Rust programming. Learning the assembler shows how the binary operating codes used by the electronics is used in software. I’m also writing a program assembler in rust, so creation of software used to write software ties everything together.
Perhaps you have two or more topics of interest which you are learning that you’ll be able to create linkages between. I’m creating an 8-bit CPU from wires and logic chips, and writing all my own software from scratch. This type of synergistic project forces me to use the learnings from each of the three topics in a real world project. I’ve said before that having an actual use for what you are learning, and using what you are learning for a project outside the realm of the textbook exercises will do wonders for your understanding.
I also wanted to focus on the calculus and understanding and using it. Originally I thought I would go through all of the maths books I have on a shelf from basic maths through algebra, then trigonometry and into calculus. But I have decided that since calculus is want I actually want to know, why not just jump in and learn that?
Two weeks ago I shelved the algebra book I was working on and pulled down two of the calculus books I have. It didn’t take long to identify the things I had been doing in the algebra book were not of much use for calculus, but it also identified a weakness in some other areas of maths. So yesterday I put the calculus books back on the shelf and pulled down the trigonometry book. Boning up on sine, cosine, tangents is helpful for the chapter of the calculus book I’m on right now.
So here I’m not making a linear progression through one book to the next in order. For me, at this time, it is better from my study and motivation to go through the textbook in the topic where I want to be, and discover knowledge gaps. That way I can go back, plug the gap then return to the higher level book.
For some people skipping around like this is suboptimal, but for me it works much better since I’m time constrained. Some people will say this method will cause me problems in the future because I don’t have a grounding in the basics before moving on the more advanced things. Normally I would agree, but I did a lot of maths back when I was in school, and most of the books I’m falling back to are refreshers for me anyway.
The problem with not using knowledge is that in the 30 odd years since I first learned all this stuff it has mostly wasted away through non-use. But unlike the first time I learned it, a review is normally enough to remember what I need.
So is this method appropriate for what you need to know? Have a think about what you are studying and if it is unknown or if you are just slogging through a refresher course just because it is the next textbook in the sequence?
Again for many things I would advocate learning things in sequence from most simple to the most complex. But I find frequently I learn best when I hit a problem and I’m forced to then go back and redo or relearn. In the electronics self-study I have been doing the need to have an assembler program forced me to learn very complex software syntax. But in that project I had progressed through the entire rust programming book from cover to cover before using it.
What I’m saying is depending on the knowledge you need and the knowledge you already have, you may need to learn sequentially or it might be more advantageous to skip about. Only you will know, and only you can determine the best way. Just don’t be stuck with the assumption that all learning has to be sequential.
I’m also learning natural languages and by this I mean; French, Italian, Chinese and Korean. Studying these is by far the largest time-sink of all the study I’m doing. The software and electronics study are related to each other, and while you would thing languages would be as well, they are all actually very distinct things which have to be studied on their own separately. There isn’t a lot of overlap and you spend a lot of time learning vocabulary.
For these I split my time between conversation exchanges, reading, and TV programs in French and Italian, the two languages I’m most advanced in. The other two are coursebooks and some audio work with additional work in learning the Chinese and Korean writing systems.
Because natural languages are degrade over time, you need to use them or touch them daily. So assuming I were to spend only 30 minutes per day on each, that is still 2 hours of study time. So how do I break up this time?
Normally, I read or watch a show in French or Italian each day, and speak with a native at least once per week. I also review flashcards each day. For Mandarin and Korean I try to read a course book and watch a TV show each day.
However, because life often interferes it frequently isn’t possible to do each language every day, so I try to do at least 3 out of 4 languages each day. When I have to drop one I try to drop one of the stronger languages since it would take me a lot longer to forget what I’ve learned in those.
You might want to think about having a plan B for days when things don’t go well. Do you know what you could drop if you needed to? Do you have a prioritised list of things so you can quickly decide what to focus on when life blind-sides you again?
It is worth spending a little time which your schedule knowing that although you’ve allocated time for various activities your future self may not be able to handle those commitments. So try to give your future self some room to manoeuvrer.
The final thing which I’m studying is lock-picking. Why? Well, not good reason actually. I just find it interesting that people can circumvent locks with two pieces of metal and I’d like to know how to do it.
Lock-picking is a physical activity that you need to practice in order to get good at it. While the basic knowledge is readily available and the theory isn’t complex, many people still cannot do it. This is because it is a skill which needs to be honed via practice like juggling, or skateboarding.
Sometimes it is nice to learn something with your body rather than your brain. Have you considered learning a physical skill like juggling or lock-picking or skateboarding? If not think about including something like this into your plans.
Finally, I want to talk a little bit about the future plans for this podcast. Frankly there aren’t any. I do want to continue the podcast, but I have covered just about all the techniques you’d need for self-study and I’ve tried to give some inspiration through looking at the lives of famous autodidactics of the past.
As this is episode 13 the season has come to a natural end and I will be taking a break for a month regardless. I’ll use the time to think about either expanding the scope of the show in order to cover more information, or if I think I’ve covered enough for the podcast to come to a conclusion. I do need time between seasons, since I do many other things than study, such as YouTube videos, another podcast, write books and I work and have a family.
So it would be awesome if I could get suggestions from listeners. You’re input would be very welcome. Suggestions for future seasons or episodes or any suggestion you’d like to make really.
As always you can reach me with suggestions via the website or my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening.
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