How to cultivate a habit of life-long learning


Education would be so much more effective if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it. - Sir William Haley


At Coder Academy we talk a lot about the mindset you need to have a successful learning experience. That’s no coincidence. People with growth mindsets about their ability to learn do far better than those with fixed mindsets. A growth mindset mean you see difficulty as a challenge rather than a barrier.

The truth is, it’s possible to improve your intelligence and talents through hard work and practice.

As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”


So welcome to a life of lifelong learning. Your learning journey is just getting started. Learning isn’t really something that can be completed. There is always more to do. How do you make this learning a habit?

  • Carve out focused time to learn. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of start with. However, learning does require time and effort, as well as the decision to want to learn. You’ve got to make it a priority. Watch where you spend your time.

  • Have career goals. What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to be? Carry out a career audit and find out. You won’t be focused on what you want to learn if you don’t know where you want to go.

  • Accept that you’ll never stop learning. Learning is a lifestyle. Think of it as an investment rather than a cost.

  • Don’t quit the second it gets difficult. It’s like ‘you don’t have to stay the whole time, you just have to go’. Much of the time once you start a task it’s easier to finish than to stop. Even if you don’t finish the task, you started it, and by completing part of it you lessened your future workload and ALSO taught your brain that things may not be as daunting as they seem

  • Don’t rush. Be thorough with your learning and you’ll get better results when you apply it.

  • Be consistent. Spend a little time on extra learning activities. Try at first 10 minutes, then 20, then half an hour a day minimum, and work your way up.

  • Volunteer for stretch assignments. Learnt something new? Feeling capable? Time to put it into practice at work.

  • Spend time with people who spend time learning. You’ll tend to find them at meetups and hanging out at co-working spaces. They might have a membership at places like Vibewire and Fishburners, or regularly attend lecture and panel series’...or speak at them.

  • Keep a list of what to learn. Notice any gaps after doing your career audit? That’s your list. It will keep you focused

  • Prove it. Prove that you’ve learnt it by creating and finishing a project around it. It could be a blog series, or a small proof of concept side project. Make it fun, and snappy, maybe even topical.

  • Keep an open mind. As Coder Factory Academy alumni Alex Karolis says, ‘You’ve got to have strong opinions, but they’ve got to be weakly held. You’ve got to believe in how you solve problems, and also be open to being challenged.’

  • Declutter. Messy people might on average be ~smarter~ but they probably also find it harder to concentrate. Keep your work spaces tidy and you’ll find you focus better. Tidy your laptop file system, your place, your internet tabs, and so on. Along that vein: establish a daily routine.

  • Keep a diary. What are you learning about yourself and how you work? Take some notes.

It’s time to create some systems! Systems will create consistency and help you persist when it gets difficult. Here are 20 tasks you can do regularly which will keep you learning.

20 Steps to Greatness

  1. Develop Your Own Pet Projects

  2. Learn from Offline Courses

  3. Learn from Online Courses

  4. Go to Technical Meetings

  5. Participate in Online Forums

  6. Make Sure You Are Learning at Work

  7. Read Technical Blogs, Magazines, Books, Twitter Feeds, Websites

  8. Teach or Speak about Programming

  9. See Presentation Slides

  10. Watch Videos

  11. Attend meetups/lectures/panels

  12. Attend Brown Bag Lunches at Work

  13. Present at Brown Bag Lunches

  14. Listen to Podcasts on the Way to Work

  15. Learn more about the domain you’re working in

  16. Use Question-and-Answer Communities

  17. Join your local User Group

  18. Use Debuggers and Static Analysis tools, constantly when you’re coding

  19. Go to Programming Conferences

  20. Listen to Podcasts

Have fun!

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. - Aristotle




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