different ways of learning

The other day I posed a journal of my attempt to learn about OracleVM. Since then I have started looking at different ways of learning ideas. A few years back I took some online classes from Stanford to learn new technologies in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Although I found these classes very informative, I also found that I could not afford to pay for these classes. One thing that I did learn was that reading text and watching a video really did not do it for me. The seminar classes were interesting but I found myself drifting if the subject did not interest me. When there was a project or lab assigned to the class, I paid more attention and learned substantially more. I have been trying to apply this to my everyday job and get people to do something while I am presenting. For example, if I am talking about a new technology I have to start asking things like how do you currently do xyz? How long does it take? What happens if you get a promotion, can you give your code to the new guy and have them understand what you did? How difficult would it be to change your procedure if you change a major component? Questions like this typically keep people interested in the technologies instead of sleeping through a powerpoint.

Last night my family had a get together to welcome back my brother-in-law from a semester at sea. When I first heard that he was going to go on a cruise for 4 months, my first thought was “what a waste of a semester and money”. My background is engineering. If I can’t specifically measure how I am progressing towards my goal of graduating, I typically don’t do it. When I first read his blog about his trip, it looked like a wonderful vacation but very little education. After reading all of his blog and having seen his pictures from the different side trips that he took, I realized that he learned more about different cultures and governments than I realized was possible. He initially went out to look at different relgions and cultures because he wants to go into law for a profession. He wanted to see the world through a different set of eyes and understand what motivates people from different countries. What he ended up seeing was the abject poverty and class separation that is magnified in some of the poorest countries around the world.

His travels around the globe started me thinking about the importance of learning by observing. I realize that I have been learning by reading, watching training videos, playing with software. I have not visited sites that are using the technology and talked with people who have experience with this technology in production. I think that over the next few months I will try to visit our larger customers and see how they use technologies like RAC, Enterprise Manager, and Data Guard. I can’t remember the last time I saw what a DBA did outside a conference room. When I worked at Rice University we would typically go to a client’s office and see how they would do things like update a web server. Doing this exposed numerous security holes that we then had to develop a plan to correct.

I guess the emphasis of this blog is to voice the opinion that there are a variety of ways of learning and no single way is the best. The ways that I have traditionally used have enabled me to be successful but I don’t think that they will work to keep my abilities up to date. I am interested in hearing about different ways that others have used to learn new technologies. This blog is one way that I have found to be a new learning path. When other people read this, they sometime comment on a different way of looking at the problem or solving the issue differently.