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My whole life I have been a reactive, lazy learner. What that means is that more or less any knowledge I ever acquired came in one of the three possible manners:

  1. Someone madated a task for whose completion I had to acquire expertise or under threat of getting poor grades in school
  2. I myself had a need to get something done for whose completion I had to acquire expertise (example: I remodeled my entire house and acquired all the trade skills in the process but that is just because I didn't like the house in the first place)
  3. I did random leisurely reading and stumbled upon material (e.g. random Wikipedia browsing while bored at work etc.)

However, I have tremendous trouble initiating a learning experience on my own, e.g. mastering a new technology or reading a book that is more than a Wikipedia article. The biggest reason I lack motivation is because I am lacking a hands-on opportunity to immediately apply the knowledge acquired.

I am currently in a job that I don't like very much using outdated technologies which I have mastered and all the jobs that I would like to apply to require either experience or some degree of familiarity with the more cutting-edge subject matters. As I have no opportunity to get my hands on them at my current work, I am also very disoriented as to how to initiate a learning process independently and apply it as I go along.

Another example is that, while in middle and high school overseas, I could never learn any English in class because I wasn't exposed to using it in real life. All other kids were much better at learning it from book, however, when I came to the States for college at the age 19, I nearly mastered it within only three months and became much better at it than many of my previously better high school classmates.

And the list of examples goes on. Once I get my hands on something REAL, I tend to not leave it until I master it, however, I can't concentrate on abstract material in books but I would like to be able to. So I am asking if there are ways to transition my learning habits.

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could you please provide an example of these areas you would like to master? Unless it's nuclear physics, I don't see why you shouldn't be able to get your hands on them ... –  Steve V Jan 31 '13 at 19:06
    
what i meant is more like having a course of study free of fluff (most tech books are mostly fluff, IMO) that also has hands-on tutorial. also, most books IMO just focus on explaining concepts, which is great however it is hard for me to relate to a concept unless i instanly see how it is applied in real world. lastly, it is very important to have an actual, tangible product to be working on rather than having to come up with my own -- that is why on-the-job learning works well for me because i get to work on a product conceived by someone else, i.e. don't have to come up with ideas. –  amphibient Jan 31 '13 at 19:17

5 Answers 5

You seem to be the type who thrives when being thrown into the fire, so start throwing yourself in there. Instead of trying to force yourself to learn through an inferior-for-you method, play off your strengths.

The barrier to entry to most things is smaller than most people realize. Do you need high-end tech to make a great video game, movie, stage production, website, house, whatever? No. You can do any of those things with 2nd hand or hacked together gear.

Jump straight into whatever it is you're trying to learn. With the power of the internet, the only thing holding you back is yourself.

Hope that helps.

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I myself had a need to get something done for whose completion I had to acquire expertise

You could make a toy project to learn a new technology. Udacity, an education start up with free MOOCs(Massive Open Online Course), has a project that you build through your course - Introduction to Programming has a search engine(a crawler really) as the project, Web Applications Development has a blog as the project, and so on. So, you could either take up a course at Udacity, or other similar start ups - Coursera, edX, and learn. Or you could take up a project on your own, pick a technology stack you want to learn and get working.

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For what it's worth, I have similarly found it difficult to pour myself into things that provide no external impetus to drive me forward. I have for many years wanted to learn certain technologies or do certain things--but I really only learned the ones that I could actively use to solve present problems (not theoretical ones). Given that limitation, then your goal is to find ways to acquire such problems that will make you grow! At the same time, I had some discretion about what problems I would work on and this helped.

I ultimately found my path by working at small companies that on the one hand, couldn't pay me a lot, but on the other hand, gave me the opportunity to learn as much as I wanted and to apply myself to all the issues and problems at hand. My fertile brain (and it very much sounds like your brain is similarly fertile) found this to be very good soil for growth.

From there I took the skills I learned and got a little bit better job, doing things with a little bit more skill. Now I have a skill near the top of a specialized technical profession. I may even go get the degree that some employers are looking for (despite having many years of experience, some still want it). But I earn a good salary and love what I do.

What is unfortunate is that the path I followed may not be open to you, because you may be established in your (unenjoyable but money-paying nonetheless) profession and may have a family or obligations that prevent you from accepting risk or lower pay. I started such a path right out of high school and I could afford to work for less. I couldn't do this now, since I do have a family and could not take the pay cut.

I wish I could give you a better, clearer, simpler strategy. This is just one that worked for me. I hope that it gives you ideas that could work for you. Perhaps taking a class is what you need--not to teach you, since you are quite good at doing that, but to give you a measurable goal and a required deliverable that you are "on the hook" to produce. Perhaps even going for a degree could do it.

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If you don't like your job, why don't you apply for a new one where you will work with the things you like? You might very well get a job where you work with things you don't know now, but are expected to learn while at work. It's actually common in the IT field (which seems to be your interest).

Nobody can know everything about the latest evolving technologies. What matters to an employer is that you can show that you are good at learning. And judging from your question you have lots of good arguments for that. If you stay with your current job, you may not find the time or energy to study, especially since bad jobs seem to suck your energy out of you.

Don't stagnate with a crappy job, there must be something better for you out there.

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because every job i apply for, they want previous experience, at least at my compensation level. i just can't afford to take any pay cut for a job that will also train me as i have a large mortgage payment. –  amphibient Jan 31 '13 at 20:38
    
so IOW, i want to do something different from what i do now but when i tell them how much $$ i need, they say that at that kind of compensation they don't wanna be supporting somebody's learning curve, i.e. they want you to hit the ground running the 1st day. it's like that with every job i apply for. they all just ask for experience and ask very specific technology-related questions that only a guru can answer, someone who hasn't had a life other than doing that day and night. they don't ask intelligence-type brain teasers and overall high level understanding of concepts –  amphibient Jan 31 '13 at 20:41
    
but the areas in which i am a guru, i don't wanna do any more. so it is a dead end kind of situation. i am also kind of tired of looking and encountering the same thing all over, yet i am incapable of moving myself to independently acquire the knowledge needed to pass interviews cause i can't read a book to save my life. yet, i can do anything i lay my hands on, as long as i am given an opportunity to tinker with it. –  amphibient Jan 31 '13 at 20:43
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@foampile: Given the current recession and your economic situation, you might have a point that it is harder. But it's not impossible. I'd say keep trying. If it doesn't work, at least you tried. And sometimes it doesn't hurt to modify the truth a little, saying that you can do things you really can't. –  Gruber Jan 31 '13 at 20:43
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@foampile: There are books which help you with common interview questions. For instance there are the Vault books. You can use those to your advantage. Often interviewers use the same or similar questions. –  Gruber Jan 31 '13 at 20:51

what i meant is more like having a course of study free of fluff (most tech books are mostly fluff, IMO) that also has hands-on tutorial.

afaik, there are tons of books like "YYY development by example", "ZZZ cookbook" etc - all you have to do is to follow the example from the book until you feel the urge to stop reading the book and start building something - now you can improve and enhance that app you've just created;

also, most books IMO just focus on explaining concepts, which is great however it is hard for me to relate to a concept unless i instanly see how it is applied in real world.

Perhaps, they do explain concepts in a such boring way, failing to tie it to real world examples? take another book, perhaps it will be better. Or skip these concepts alltogether and continue building your little app - until you'll bang your head against the wall and will have no choice but learn (or reinvent) that concept.

it is very important to have an actual, tangible product to be working on rather than having to come up with my own -- that is why on-the-job learning works well for me because i get to work on a product conceived by someone else, i.e. don't have to come up with ideas.

join open-source world; there is always something

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