Learning something new on the Internet: One hour, one task and one massive bank of information

November 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Have you ever had an experience of wanting to learn something new, but just never got round to doing it? The reasons are aplenty: time is always scarce, procrastination is a huge inertia and the difficulty of the task kills the initial enthusiasm pretty quickly. So the question I asked myself today is whether all these could be overcome with a little help from technology. In an attempt to answer this, I decided to do a little ethnological study of my own. More specifically, I set myself a difficult task, in which I had no prior knowledge, and evaluated whether the material found on the internet can make the process easier. All I had was an Internet connection, an enthusiastic mind and an hour of a Sunday afternoon to kill, and the objective: to learn how to make an app for Apple or Android phone in less than an hour.

17:15 – Started with google. I typed in the phrase: “How to make an App for iPhone”. Most of the hits offered some clues about how to create an apple application, using either third party software or the original software development kit. However a common denominator in all of them is the monetary cost of using these facilities. This is something which I am not prepared to invest yet, given the uncertainty of not even knowing whether I am going to survive the first hour of my Apps making endeavour.

17:30 – Tried googling “Apps for Android phones”. The good thing with Android Apps was that the software development kits appeared to be free. I also came across a couple of You-Tube videos and a step by step guide on how to create a simple code. I started first with the videos, thinking that the multimodal means of communications might make the learning easier. The videos started off making you feel confident that this was going to be a breeze, but quickly escalated into a lexicon of computer jargons which even repeated pauses and rewinds could not help. Verdict: Videos are easy to watch but difficult to understand. The nature of videos is such that multi-steps instructions can be swiftly condensed into few seconds of motion pictures. This makes learning difficult for me.

17:55 – I decided to switch to a more conventional way of learning by following the step by step procedure detailed in one of the websites. The instructions were straightforward to follow, though I did not understand 90% of the commands I was typing in. Having said that, I definitely found it easier to follow the instructions than when I was watching the You-Tube video. It felt almost like reading one of those “For dummies” books. However, I could not escape from the fact that there were a lot of programming jargons I did not understand. Verdict: Learning through text / image based websites are definitely easier than videos. However, the information is usually segmented, i.e,. it is difficult to find a website that continuously take you from a beginner stage to more advanced programming. Furthermore, the notes are also not as meticulous written like a book, where difficult technical terms are usually highlighted and explained.

18:15 – After much reading, searching and constant looking at the clock, I’ve finally reached the end of my one hour journey.

My overall verdict: I think I have learned a thing or two, but definitely not enough to make an App independently, not even close. It takes time to locate and make sense of the readily available information. To me, the Internet is useful if you want to get quick information or learn to do something you already have a prior knowledge of. As for starting something from scratch, I still prefer to learn the conventional way – taking a course and be guided/coached by an instructor or having an instructional book in hand and a coffee by the side. However, I know that if I need additional information or need help with troubleshooting, I can log on to the Internet.

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