The advantage of structured learning is that often we’ll learn things that we didn’t expect to learn. This is because we’re following someone else’s plan for learning where they are having us learn what they think we need to know. We (should) get a comprehensive overview of the subject. With “just in time” learning, we only learn what we need to know to solve a problem.
Not every structured learning format suits every learner. You’ve got to figure out what works for you.
- Do you learn well in a classroom environment? Then you should take a course
- Do you have the discipline to self learn by reading through a book? Many people like the idea of learning by picking up a book, but it takes a fair degree of discipline.
- Are you somewhere in between? Where you like having an instructor, but don’t like being in a classroom. Perhaps you should investigate online courses such as though from a site like PluralSight.
- Can you learn by browsing through content on the web. It's certainly possible, though it requires you know what you need to know. If you're new to a subject, it's hard to have an understanding of just how much you don't know without some sort of guidance.
Some people need a goal with their learning. Put them in front of a book and they will meander aimlessly. If there is a definite endpoint to their learning, like an exam, suddenly the whole process comes into focus.
Many people use certification not just to buff their resume, but as a learning goal. In learning about the technology to pass the exam, you’ll learn about the technology. You’ll learn about things that may not be of use in your “real world” – but may be of use when your “real world” changes at some point in the future.
One example of this is a student I had for a Windows Server 2008 R2 course which included AD FS. At the time he hadn’t heard of the technology. He found it pretty much irrelevant to what he needed to know to do his job. Spin forward a couple of years and I caught up with him at TechEd. He specifically bought up AD FS, reminding me he’d thought it useless at the time, but which he’d just used to configure federation between his on-premises environment and Azure. With a “just in time” learning approach, this first exposure to the subject might have been just before implementation. Because he’d pursued structured learning, he’d encountered the subject before he’d had to deal with it in the “real world”.
In the last few posts I’ve talked a lot about learning. It’s an insanely important facet of being an IT Pro. When you start out in a career, it’s all learning. When you’ve been working with technology for some time, there is a tendency to minimize the amount of time you put aside to learn. This often happens for the pragmatic reason that if you need to know something, you’ll figure it out at the time rather than ahead of time.
You should set aside a certain amount of time each month to learn something new. This serves a dual purpose. The first is that you’ll keep expanding your knowledge. The second is that you’ll keep your learning muscles fresh. It’s a lot harder to retain knowledge if you’ve fallen out of the habit of learning than it is if it’s something you do on a regular basis. Stop learning and your brain becomes less adept at the process. And if you’re an IT Pro who isn’t good at learning, you probably won’t be an IT Pro in a few years time.