.: 3 May 2015 :.

My 5 steps to teaching myself design skills

I consider myself as an experience learner. Mere theory does not make sense to me. I can read tutorials all day, but I will only learn when I start doing. While doing I gain new experiences and can relate these to past experiences.

I think that learning is a skill, which can be learned. It is totally possible to become your personal best teacher.

My 5 steps to teaching myself design skills.

1. Try my very best, in isolation

By “trying” I gain experience which is the foundation of my learning. I try hard, really hard. Whether I am doing some graphics or preparing a presentation, I constantly ask myself: “Is this the very best I have ever done?”.

In this stage, I try to limit external influence, even though the answers are just there for me to grab. I can google the answer to my programming question. I can check on YouTube for a tutorial. I can even send a question to my tutor. But I won’t. That’s because I want to struggle, I want to fail.

I can google the answer to my programming question. I can check on YouTube for a tutorial. I can even send a question to my tutor. But I won’t.

I also try to limit expectations because I will be more open for positive surprises. The more I look externally, the more expectations I will have during the process.

A lack of resources will also force me to use my existing skills creatively. Because no one is instructing me, I am teaching myself. In order to continue, I have to come up with my own strategies, theories and methods. Besides that I will learn to deal with uncertainty and to rely on my intuition. Finally, limiting external resources at this stage, will give future resources more value.

In order to continue, I have to come up with my own strategies, theories and methods.

2. Fail, but make progress

A lack of resources while “trying” will definitely cause me to fail. I don’t however consider it as failing. I consider it as progress. This mindset helps me during the “trying”. It enables me to dive headfirst into a situation without expectations.

At this point I made progress but I can’t yet apply my new skills at the level I intended. That’s why I will reach out external resources.

3. Look for resources

Only when I am sure I did my very best, I will reach out to external resources. What type of resource depends on the situation. Mentors who can identify with me can give good feedback. It can be hard however to find someone who is really critical. Often I try to analyze the people who already posses the skill I am developing. I try to figure out what makes them so skilled and copy their behaviour.

4. Reflect by writing

Reflection is essential in the learning process. Much of the knowledge you gain by trying is tacit at first. It is vague or even hidden. You can’t really put you finger on it. This makes it a poor foundation for further learning.

Much of the knowledge you gain by trying is tacit at first. This makes it a poor foundation for further learning.

Through reflection, you solidify your tacit knowledge, enabling you to built on it. For me, writing is crucial for uncovering tacit knowledge. I only discover much of what I have learned once I start to write about it.

I only discover much of what I have learned once I start to write about it.

Besides that, reflecting is great to structure my thoughts. Once I can make sense of what I have actually done, I have learned something new. Finally, I will set new goals for the next learning cycle.

5. Try, over again

Once I reflected I am ready to start the next cycle. Trying becomes easier. This feeling of progress really motivates me. However, because I also aim higher I face new challenges. This is the beauty of the learning process, there will always be new challenges. By repeating this cycle I will always learn something new. Sometimes I just need to be patient. Learning comes in small pieces, not in big chunks.

Do you have comments or questions on this article?
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Martijn van den Broeck (@MartijnvdBroeck)

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