Learning How To Learn


Whiteboard - learning how to learn

by Nick Such

The Web Developer Bootcamp is the most challenging course we offer at Awesome Inc. Over the course of sixteen weeks, a student, who is expected to have no prior programming experience, is transformed into an employable software developer. This journey is one filled with ups and downs, and it is completed as a matter of will, persistence, and lots of help from the local software developer community. At the end of the intensive training phase of the journey, this freshly-minted software developer has wrestled with new programming languages, wrangled databases, and written a lot of code. While HTML, JavaScript, and Git skills are no doubt important for a web developer, it’s hard to argue against the primacy of the skill of learning itself.

According to Stack Overflow’s 2016 Developer Survey, nearly 70% of professional developers claim to be “Self-Taught”. If people come to our Bootcamp to become professional developers like these, perhaps we best serve our student by helping them to become self-teachable. On day one of Bootcamp, we start with an exercise called “Learning how to learn”, based on a visit from co-founder Luke Murray to our first Bootcamp cohort in 2016. In Luke’s blog post about the experience, he breaks down lessons on learning from his 26 years of schooling. Luke is an M.D., MBA, Ironman Triathlete, serial entrepreneur, musician, and aspiring francophone. He has spent a lot of time learning in a variety of disciplines, some of it done well, much of it full of inefficiencies. During the three months that students reside in Awesome Inc’s Bootcamp program, there is not much room for waste.

Our lesson in metacognition focuses on Luke’s thesis that helping a learner to control his or her internal and external environments yields the greatest increase in learning efficiency. We define the internal environment with these five components:

  1. Attitude (“Start with the why”)
  2. Stress
  3. Rest
  4. Nutrition
  5. Exercise

The goal of maintaining healthy levels in the learner’s internal environment is to maximize the ability to learn. The point of managing the external environment is to support the learner’s internal environment. If we think of the game of bowling as an example, then managing your internal environment is “rolling the ball down the lane, aiming for the pins, and avoiding the gutters”, while managing your external environment is like “installing bumpers”. Once you identify the internal factors you need to manage in order to excel at learning, take any external steps you can to make failure harder than success.

Our exercise focuses on controlling our personal learning environments, but there are many other factors in becoming an excellent learner. These include developing an attitude of curiosity, to forming the ability to self-correct, and seeking out experts. While an outside observer may categorize us as “a school for aspiring web developers”, we know that our short time together could not yield a career’s worth of technical skills. For the more than 30 alumni who have successfully made a career change through our program, Awesome Inc has not simply “taught them to code”, but rather helped them to learn how to learn.

If you would like to take this journey with us, applications are open for our Spring 2019 cohort.