When You Want To Learn Things Which Have No Context In Your History

Face That Mountain

If you’re anything like me, there will are times when skills and topics seem beyond your grasp. No schema is in place to house them, no history or understanding. You may feel like it would be easier to suddenly visit the moon or go climb a mountain!

Where do you begin when you have nothing to relate to?

Introductory internet research can give you an overview of many topics. Wikipedia may be a good starting place or even Simple Wikipedia for a very basic start. Just as this website looks at learning, identify other sites in your area of interest so you can get great coverage and stay up to date. One place to start your search is Alltop, which covers all sorts of different topics.

A local library is another good place to start. You can order relevant books using inter-library loans and use online resources that you would otherwise have to pay for to get access.

Reading material helps you gain a basic understanding of how something works and can give you good areas to explore as you start to broaden your horizons.

What if the skill you want to learn is practical?

There are many videos available on websites like YouTube and Vimeo, which give practical introductions and demonstrations. There are podcasts too, if you prefer to listen on the go. You can choose all sorts of resources, from those where well-seasoned professionals have the details, to those hosted by people who are practising new skills as they go along. Sharing new experiences and learning can be a great way of introducing you to a new subject if you would prefer to see how someone else tackles a topic that’s new to them.

Some sites and shows have added value in the comments section where authors and presenters answer questions. Some people let you contact them directly via email and various social networks, which could also be an avenue towards stronger learning.

If you’re feeling flush…

A bit of money can help uncover other goodies. You might identify a short course which might support you in the early days of development. Just remember that the way that the person leading the course isn’t necessarily a good match for your own personal learning priorities and preferences. That is why a short course or taster session can be useful.

Even if you feel put off by an experience and you spent cold hard cash on it, take an overall view and decide whether the negative experience was because you cannot do it (Answer: No), the topic was not for you (Answer: Probably not), the course wasn’t a good match for you (Answer: Perhaps), or whether the person teaching you presented the content in a boring, unsupportive, or complicated manner (Answer: It happens more than you’d think).

There are always other alternatives, so keep searching until you find a way that works for you personally.

Speaking face to face with a person who has the skills you are wanting to learn can be invaluable as you can interact with them and ask them your questions as you get to them, or they can show you what they mean when you are not sure of something. Sometimes an introductory course is also useful as they provide the materials needed for teaching, without you having to have an expensive outlay for something which you may not desire to take much further.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again using different approaches until you find a good match for you!

The hardest part is starting. But it’s worth it.

You may find no context to ground you in a brand new subject, but there’s nothing wrong with that when you actively choose to learn something from scratch.

Having faith to take that first leap is often more difficult than an amateur turning professional. At least the amateur has the context and can see where they want to take their skill or understanding further.

It’s different when you’re starting from nothing. The jump from total ignorance to having a basic understanding can be eye-opening. Once you make that jump, there may be no turning back. You’ll find links everywhere you look. You’ll suddenly want to immerse yourself in the topic more.

The possibilities are endless. All it takes is that one spark of interest and you could be on fire.




Natalie has spent many years employed as a scientist. Since she committed to supporting her children's whole-life learning, Natalie has developed a strong interest (both general and personal) in how and why people learn and develop. This interest led to the creation of the site you’re currently on, “Learning, Always”.

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