Dr. Pete Sbarski is the VP of Education and Research at A Cloud Guru, an AWS Serverless Hero, and the author of a book about serverless architectures.
We caught up with Pete as part of our #LearnFromAnywhere series to share his experiences with online learning and his recommendations for students.
Learning to learn at ACG
At A Cloud Guru, we work constantly to design and refine training courses that help our students achieve their cloud learning goals. In fact, we’ve developed our own set of adult learning principles (a field known as “andragogy”), which we continually revise based on the feedback from more than one million students.
Andragogy is a deep subject which is all about how adults think, acquire, and retain information, and then make the appropriate linkages in their brains. We know that adults learn differently from children — for example, adults learn by association, relating new concepts to things they already understand, whereas to a child everything is new. And learning online, rather than in a traditional classroom setting, adds lots of new wrinkles.
Against that backdrop, let me share my top ten tips to help you learn effectively online.
10 tips for effective learning online
1. Set aside dedicated time for study
It could be an hour day between 6 am and 7 am or 3 pm to 4 pm. Some people find it easier to study in the morning; others find it more comfortable in the afternoon. Setting a time each will help you get organized and create a habit. Establishing a pattern will serve you well in the long-term. Good habits will help you keep moving when the going gets tough.
2. Organize a comfortable place to study that is free of major distractions
I find that a place that’s too quiet can be distracting also. So a little bit of nose is not a big deal. There’s a reason why a lot of people like working in cafes with ambient noise and foot traffic.
3. Come up with a specific and measurable goal
For example: “I am going to get certified by the 15th” or “build an iOS game and launch on the 1st”, or “create a website”. There isn’t a better way to motivate yourself than a strict deadline.
4. Plan your study time
If you want to do a certification exam, pick a course, and chunk it up into several weeks. A lot of online courses, for example, use chapters or domains. You can follow those and try to do a section every week or every three days.
5. Use a study strategy that works for you
Most people learn by doing, so avoid too much passive study. Do something practical from the very start—mix videos with reading with quizzes with practical exercises. Understanding theory is essential, but too much theory without getting your hands dirty is ineffective.
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6. Push yourself, but also find a way to reward your effort
You need to feel a sense of accomplishment, traction, that hallelujah moment as you make progress. Pair study with an external stimulus any time you achieve anything substantial. Reward yourself with a delicious piece of black chocolate, a coffee, or a pat on the back when you complete a chapter or implement a tricky feature.
7. Pair physical exercise with intellectual exercise
Go out for a 10-minute run or a quick gym session, then come back and study. That works well for me.
8. Quiz yourself – especially if you are studying for an exam
You can find great quizzes on A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy. Quizzing yourself and then adjusting your learning based on what you know is called formative assessment. It helps you understand whether you have genuinely learned something or not. Also, once you start doing well on quizzes and practice exams, you will feel a great deal of satisfaction that will keep you motivated.
9. Study with friends
Form a study group and encourage one another. Make sure that everyone is progressing at the same pace and that no one is left behind. Positive peer reinforcement can do wonders.
10. Be honest with yourself
If you feel that you are wasting your study time, admit it to yourself. The best way to fix it is to set a clear goal, reassess how you are studying, and shake things up if what you are doing isn’t working.
Bonus tip: If you are studying for an exam, take notes and draw pictures. Once you look back at everything you have done, you will feel a great deal of satisfaction, and you’ll have a way to revise what you learned.
And one more thing to remember: just getting a certification shouldn’t be the end goal. It’s akin to getting a driver’s license and finding out how much there is still to know. The end goal should always be about becoming a better professional, understanding technical and business considerations, becoming fluent in the language of Cloud and technology, and knowing what to do when you don’t know the answer.
I always tell students that sometimes studying is easy. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’ll just happen, and other times you will have to push yourself. Just keep going, don’t give up. You will make it.