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Tips for Retaining What You’ve Learned

Tips for Retaining What You’ve Learned

The ever-changing nature of programming (and the different languages and platforms used for programming) is a double-edged sword. While new innovations and dynamic programming languages constantly push the limits of what you can design and build, every new language requires learning new concepts, syntax, algorithms, and development principles. The hard part of programming is how do you make space for new learning while also retaining all of the important knowledge you’ve learned through the course of your coding classes and actual programming work?

While retaining important information is not unique to programmers, there are some specific tips and tricks that can make your retention more effective (and thus, help you make the most out of any programming classes you decide to take). Retention skills are actually something you should adopt while you learn code - you shouldn’t wait until you’ve “learned everything” to start trying to improve your memory.

With this in mind, here are some of the best methods for learning effectively, prioritizing what you need to learn, and ensuring that you can actually retain the principles and fundamentals of any language or tech tool you explore.

#1: Don’t Try To Learn Every Aspect Of Programming - Focus On What Makes Sense For What You Want To Build 

Like a kid in a candy store, most novice programmers make the basic but costly mistake of trying to learn every single important programming language and overwhelm themselves. Different languages have different use cases, strengths, weaknesses, and learning curves. Similarly, learning principles for one language used for machine learning (JavaScript) while trying to also learn about a language geared toward mobile app development (like Swift) can not only confuse a new programmer, but can actually make your learning of each language harder - by dividing your focus and brain power, you won’t actually master either language.

For example, if you decide to become a Java developer, this removes the need to learn C, then C++, and then finally move onto Java after cramming your head full of other principles. Instead, you should enroll directly in a Java course and focus your time and energy on mastering that language alone.

Start by setting some goals around things you want to be able to do or build -- do you want to build mobile games, or work on server-side development? Do you want to learn languages with broad applications, or master a specific skill set to become an expert mobile developer? Late in your programming education and career, you can learn a framework of your choice to work more professionally after learning and mastering the basics of the language. 

Learning the fundamentals makes learning advanced skills later in your career easier, so starting with a narrow, in-depth focus for your learning is far better than trying to cover everything you can possibly learn. While focusing on a single language may seem boring, most experienced programmers can tell you that the ability to persist when things get boring is an essential skill for any developer.

#2: Figure Out What Method of Learning Works Best For You And Design Your Coursework Around That Method 

There have been extensive studies and research done on the best ways for people to learn, from their first days in elementary school to adult education. These studies have shown that most people, while all able to learn through different methods, fall into one of these four “learner type” categories:

Visual Learners

You are the type of learner who needs to see something visually to better remember it and synthesize it in your brain. This may be video demos of programming, graphic representations of programming problems, or other image-based methods of incorporating lessons and fundamentals.

Auditory Learners

You learn best by listening, whether that be to a lecture or a podcast or even just a mentor or teacher explaining something to you. Auditory learners also often find learning more effective if they themselves speak up -- whether that’s talking through a problem you are working on, or re-explaining material to yourself or to others.

Kinesthetic Learners

This is a fancy way of saying you learn by actually doing -- by using your hands to build things, or to actually practice with live code to apply coding concepts and actually learn through experience. While many people benefit from this type of learning, if you find this works best for you, then you may want to find coding classes that focus on playing around with actual code or coding challenges to avoid too much lecture or reading.

Reading/Writing Learners

Often thought of as “traditional” learners, reading and writing learners thrive when they read textbook chapters, lecture notes, or informative slides and synthesize that information internally. This might mean buying a textbook or guide to a particular language to read alongside the coding classes you are enrolled in.

Even if you are an adult pursuing coding for a career change, it is never too late to figure out what type of learning style works best for you and use that knowledge to better design your coding studies. By tailoring your learning to include as much of your preferred style as possible (or choosing coding classes that incorporate methods for all four types of learners), you can both increase your retention and learn concepts more quickly than you might have expected.

#3: Set Short-Term And Long-Term Learning Goals To Measure Progress And Achievement 

While goal-setting is often associated with self-help books and motivational seminars, there are some practical and proven benefits to creating realistic goals before beginning any learning in terms of helping you stay motivated. The trick is to be realistic and practical with the types of goals you set. One good method is to set both short-term (easily achievable) and long-term (comprehensive) goals, to give yourself some quick wins to stay motivated while also being realistic about goals that may take a serious investment of time and effort:

Short Term Goals 

Many coding classes already incorporate this approach by breaking up coding lessons into bite-sized tutorials that focus on a specific skill. If you are designing your own coding learning, consider choosing simple goals like “learn one new process” or “add five new Python vocabulary words this week”.

Long Term Goals

While every programmer’s goal is to learn how to master an entire language, long-term goals incorporate anything that might realistically take a long time and a lot of work to achieve. Building your first app, getting your first apprenticeship, or working on your first development team are good examples of realistic long-term learning goals for a developer.

#4: Find Ways To Reward Yourself Or Give Yourself A Break When Things Get Challenging Or Boring 

Every cliche movie scene of a bunch of bored students watching the clock while a teacher drones on gives education a bad reputation. We often think of learning as something that is challenging, tiring, time-consuming, and not always as rewarding as we hoped. While good coding classes offer some built-in methods for measuring achievements (such as learner profiles that track achievements and certificates of mastery), finding ways to incentivize and reward yourself is an essential skill for successful learners in all academic areas.

Here are some easy ways to help keep yourself motivated and driven, even when things get tough or boring and you feel like you aren’t making progress:

Break Up Learning Into Manageable Chunks 

If you find that after an hour of listening to a lecture on programming fundamentals, you are drifting off, then recognize that about yourself! Instead of trying to plow through a three hour coding class, consider an option that lets you take an hour, then an hour break, then back to class etc. You’ll maximize your ability to actually hear and remember important concepts and keep yourself fresh for future coursework.

Use Leisure Activities Or Rewards To Set Goals For Yourself 

Like using a carrot on a stick to keep a donkey moving, think about what your “carrot” might be. Dinner with friends? Bingeing a Netflix show? Going to sleep? Whatever it may be, by setting your learning goals clearly and then choosing a “self-reward” when you achieve them, you can both keep yourself motivated and add a feeling of achievement when you finish them.

Find A Learning Buddy To Help Keep You Both Motivated 

Another tried and true method, especially if you choose a coding community with opportunities for learners to network and challenge each other, is to make a friend who is learning the same concepts alongside you. Not only can you collaborate and help each other learn the principles of a particular language, but you can challenge each other or even use each other as a sounding board when things are tough or you aren’t motivated.

Looking for coding classes that can help with all of the above? Try SoloLearn!

SoloLearn knows how challenging learning to code can be, but more importantly, how rewarding and satisfying it is to build your own apps and programs and become a bonafide developer! That’s why SoloLearn is proud to offer beginning programmers an app that includes all of these retention practices to make your learning experience easy and beneficial, as well as additional perks like:

  • A comprehensive set of coding classes, including all major modern programming languages. Each course includes tutorials to learn the basics, coding challenges to apply your skills, and the ability to get questions answered and track your achievements.
  • A code playground where you kinesthetic learners can actually practice with live code and begin to build things, to see what class concepts look like in application.
  • A unique learner profile, where you can connect with fellow learners, as well as receive badges and certificates of achievement. You can also set and measure progress against learning goals to keep yourself moving and tracking toward your goals.
  • A thriving learner community, where you can meet and challenge fellow learners and get questions answered by fellow learners and developers.