This is my first post by request. One of my readers, “an occasional blogger and a coach”, who runs the EffectivenessCoach blog, send me an email the other day. Besides the usual “hi, I saw we have similar interests and I’m also a blogger” the message had also a question:
“How can you structure your learning process on the Internet? I end up buried under tons of websites, blogs, webinars and you name it. Do you have any thoughts on this? Maybe a blog post about it?”
Well, the magic words were spoken: “a blog post about this”. Without further ado, let’s see how can we structure our learning process on the Internet:
I am on the Internet for more than 14 years. Since the very beginning. I won’t tell you my Internet history here, as it has little to do with our main topic. But I will tell you a little story about my first Internet full-contact.
10 years ago I started my own web company. Part of it was of course, internet access. Maybe it sounds pre-historical, but believe me, that was a time when dial-up was mainstream. Having cable internet was still a dream. So, I had the chance to get an office in the same building with an Internet Service Provider. A simple ethernet link from them and voila: I had 10 mbs internet access. Wow! And I mean, WOW!
To make a long story short, the following 3 weeks are a black hole in my mind. I hardly remember anything from that time other than dumbly looking at hundreds and hundreds of websites. Without recollecting any of them, of course. At some point, I realized I started to lose weight, to stare at people without a specific reason and that also my sleep was completely screwed.
That was the moment I started to structure my own Internet learning strategy.
1. Isolate From It For A While
Internet is highly addictive. If you really want to take advantage of it, you must first isolate from it for a while. Find out what you really need first. Go online only when you have a clear image about what you want to incorporate. During the first 3 weeks of full-contact Internet I was looking at anything: graphics, forums, cars, tech, directory. Everything. After the first 3 weeks, I decided it’s time to focus on only several areas: learning the basics of server maintenance and PHP. For the next 6 months I didn’t do anything on the Internet except that.
Over the years I found this approach extremely effective. When I decided to start blogging I took a little bit of a break from my regular browsing habits. I just isolated for a few weeks and then I started to browse only blogs. And from blogs, only personal development blogs. And from personal development blogs, only the ones that I liked. Taking some distance from the source will surely help you decide how do you really want to use the source.
2. Restrain Your Insertion Points
How’s the home page of your browser looking? How are your bookmarks organized? How many feeds do you have in your feed reader? I ask because those are your insertion points on the Internet. You are entering the information highway through those roads. And if you have too many access roads you’ll be tempted to use them regardless of their value. Hence, losing precious time just browsing around.
I recommend having under 5 insertion points. One of them would be your feed reader, of course, and it’s your job to constantly peruse it and get rid of old or uninteresting content. The next ones are based on what I call “functional web”. For instance, I do a lot of research. And for research I use only Google. Usually the front page does the trick if I ask the good question. For interaction and human advice I use Twitter. And for growing relationships I use Facebook. As you may see, I still have one spot open. 🙂
3. Pick The Right Tools
Harvesting information is one of the most difficult tasks ever. Much more difficult than harvesting crops. This is why you’re going to need some tools. And your tools will be influenced by the type of information you’re harvesting. If you’re after design or art, you’re going to have a good image storing application. If you’re into writing, then some sort of database will have to be at hand. I use only 2 tools to organize my work, and those are Evernote and MacJournal.
Regardless of what type of information you’re harvesting, I think that, as a rule of thumb, any tool you’ll use needs to have at least those features:
- some sort of tagging or category grouping
- integrated search
- export capabilities in other formats
- online / backup capabilities
4. Transform It
After you have this setup in place, start to transform all this information into something useful. It could be a research project, a new career, a new business, whatever. Just make sure you use all the info and you’re not letting it slip away. A learning process must end with something comparable. Keeping a log of your learning activities will definitely help, but most of the time just assessing yourself at certain time intervals will do it too.
From my experience, feeling lost in the jungle of the Internet is often just an expression of a slow progress. Kind of like frustration. The information wave we’re trying to ride is so big that our efforts are looking insignificant. Having a clear way to assess progress will dramatically decrease frustration. Sometimes, just feeling good about what you’ve find on the Internet will alleviate your feelings of being lost in this jungle.
5. Create An Internet Free Day
Remember, your muscle grows not when you lift weights, but when you rest. Staying in contact with your learning source too much won’t make you smarter. On the contrary. You need time to incorporate that new information. You need distance to start making comparisons. You need some space to start making experiments. Staying away from the Internet is equally important if you’re really trying to learn something out of it.
Depending on your schedule and regular work, this Internet free dayÂ may be a weekly day, or monthly day. What counts is that during that day you’re totally offline. A subtle effect is that you’re letting those outer energies work by themselves. I often find traffic spikes on my blog after taking an internet day off. It seems like if you’re staying too long there you start getting in the way of something. 🙂 So, take a day off every once in a while.
That’s it. It’s only 5 steps but I’m sure it can be refined. Use it a starting point and create your own. And of course, add your suggestions in the comments.
I have to admit it was really fun to write a blog post on request. So, if you feel I may know the answer to a question that bothers you, feel also free to use the contact page and let me know about it. It might even get a public answer, like this one. 🙂