Edit : I found this really amazing website few days after writing this post : http://www.memrise.com

This is going to be a long post. Right now it is a brain dump, need to organize it better.

So in this post, I will try to reason with myself and ask about the question of, a still unanswered question, how can we systematically consume information present around us for our betterment?

Specifically, how can we better our careers?

To give a context of how I reached this question – I am subscribed to Goodreads and one of my friends read a series of books on career improvement and design patterns. This led me to read the book “A passionate programmer”. It gave some nice advise, about what to do to improve career. I also found many online courses like Stanford Classes – Google University, Udacity, etc.

Now it is established that there is a lot of material available to improve oneself – books, tutorials, online courses which mimic a class room a la Stanford classes, online courses with no end goal. I talked to few friends on how this information can be consumed and used to better our careers. Sure enough everyone was interested in it, but we stumbled on some problems, which might not need to be solved.

Before going into these problems, let me put my thoughts about how the institution of university has solved the problem of too much material. The biggest problems I think, when a person sits down to do online material, are motivation to continue working and lack of continuous rewards. The University system has solved this wonderfully. Talking of rewards first, its brilliant how the learning is divided into chunks of years. So a person learns 1st grade material, then 2nd, so on. Right from kindergarten to PhD! This gives a sense of continuous rewards. There is a yearly reward of passing a year and motivation to work towards it. This year is further divided into smaller chunks at higher level, where there is need of more motivation, thereby giving more immediate rewards.

The second problem is of motivation. University system has many factors to motivate. In the initial schooling years, its friends. Then it’s the learning. In college its the promise of a job, a career, a ticket to a good life. In still higher levels its the joy of learning and changing one’s field. Of course, these reasons are no way exhaustive, just one of the motivations.

Coming back to learning from material, after several years in an environment where an exam motivates you to learn and the rewards are more mainstream, like the promise of a job, how do we transition ourselves to a system where motivation is from self and rewards are not immediately visible, like a better way to handle people or a better code architecture? I don’t yet have an answer for this. A group for this is good, but is extremely dependent on the motivation of its members.

The next problem comes is order of information to learn and personal interests. We are used to system of CS10X courses, then CS20X courses then 30X, 40X, 50X etc. Information is ordered, there are people dedicating their entire lives to order this information ( Board of Studies). Can all information be ordered? Can design patterns, functional programming, learning about the business side of your company, customer success stories be learnt in an order? Is an ordering even required? Then comes the problem of personal interest. How does a group of people who have come together to learn, grow together and is small, also respect individual interests?

Udacity has started with the aim of an online university. Will it evolve over time to an even better method of learning? Right now the content writers gate the information flow. Will there be a time where there will be no select group of people gating information flow to learn? Is such a model even possible? Is there a market for a social media site dedicated only to foster discovery of content, learning, motivation and a rewards system for continuous learning? Will an online model of learning be able to surpass the traditional way of learning, which is severely restricted when it comes to scaling?