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Anna Buianova
Anna Buianova

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Getting more value from reading

In the last part of the “Technical reading“ series, I would like to share what helps me to comprehend and remember the information better.
For me learning from reading to be a better developer feels different from learning for an exam. When reading, I want to use the knowledge as soon as possible, not just reproduce it to pass a test.
But still, I found out that similar techniques can be useful for both of these types of learning. When programming, we memorize many of the concepts naturally while practicing, but there are theoretical concepts to remember too.

While I believe that reading is useful by itself, following the Active Recall principle helps us to learn even better. This principle is opposed to passive reviewing. When just reading and re-reading, we can get an “illusion of competence“. The material seems familiar but we probably won't be able to recall it when necessary.

Here are some techniques that I use:

Take notes

This is a popular one but should be used wisely. Just highlighting lines won't help much. Recalling is more useful, so I try to write the main ideas of a chapter (or part of it) in my own words after reading it.

Answer the questions

Some books contain questions and exercises at the end of each chapter. Obviously, it helps not to skip them. But most of the books don't have such questions, so I usually make them myself. Sometimes I combine this and the previous tip by writing notes as answers to the questions.
Making flashcards is a similar technique, but it seems to be more useful to study for an exam and overkill for self-learning. However, they can be helpful when learning the basics and you can always use them as a reference later.

Discuss what you've read with someone

Even a brief discussion with your partner, friend or an online community will help the knowledge to stick. You also may get new ideas and insights while discussing. I mentioned a book club in my previous post, I have organized one a couple of months ago and while it turned out just 2 of us reading and discussing, it still was a really interesting experience and I got a lot from it.

Research more on the topic

It's useful to get more than one view on the topic. Though I find it inconvenient interrupting to read other sources, I do research more after finishing a chapter. Another approach is to make a list of the most interesting topics or concepts you would like to learn more about and search for more information after finishing a book.

Write about what you've learned

That's a hard one for me! But writing a post will force you to think and research much more. Besides other benefits, like helping others, it'll help you to structure your own knowledge.
Of course, I don't suggest writing about everything you've read about, but if you have some fresh ideas you want to share, don't hesitate.

Don't forget about other learning styles (and practice)

It's a common myth that we learn better when using our preferred learning style, but actually that's not true
As you can guess my favorite way to learn is reading, but when I found out that it's more effective to combine different styles, I started to incorporate more listening and even some video content into my studies. I have hard times concentrating on video, but even though I started to enjoy it.
I have learned about the learning styles from the Barbara Oakley's MOOC “Mindshift“ and her book “A mind for numbers“

Maybe all these actions seem excessive and time-consuming. I don't do all of these for every single book and every single chapter I read. But even using some of these techniques for the most important pieces help.

Do any of these help you as well?

Top comments (4)

dianacoman profile image
Diana Coman

As the saying goes - if you want to really learn something, find someone to teach it to. And at any rate, since you can never know what it is you don't know, finding a mentor can help you precisely with the "blind spots".

karataev profile image
Eugene Karataev

I liked that "Case of the Weeping Mermaid" has it's place among the hardcore programming books 😂

lightalloy profile image
Anna Buianova

Cool, that you spotted it! ✨

shernz profile image

Yesssss... Thanks for sharing... Shall incorporate some of these in my study!