When you decide you need to learn something, probably the first thing you think of is to find a book on the subject. It may not be the best idea, but it will probably be the first.
And sometimes it is the best way; and it’s certainly the way I’m most familiar with, so that’s where I’m starting the series.
Step 1: Pick a Book
In some cases this may be done for you: in class, the teacher/professor may have selected a book and ordered you to read it — in that case, all you can do is hope that it’s good.
But if you’re learning on your own time, for your own purposes, then you need to select one. At the library or bookstore, head to the right section, then just read through the titles. Do any catch your eye? Do any seem to be addressing the specific problem you’re having? Pull the likely ones off the shelf and open them to a random page. Does the advice make sense to you? Is it too complex? Too simplistic? Does it seem to actually address the specific problem you’re having?
You can also do a quick web search or ask for recommendations from your friends/family/coworkers/geeky friends.
Step 2: Get a recording medium
Just reading a book does very little good unless you actually retain and — here’s the difficulty — think about what you’re reading. You may even disagree; that’s fine, as long as you’re thinking, analysing, and processing.
And for that, you need some way to lay your thoughts out and look at them. I prefer to have a spiral notebook, because handwriting connects to my brain better than typing. My fiance prefers to type; in that case you could keep a document on your computer, use MS OneNote, or even start a blog. You could get a voice or video recorder, and tape your thoughts (and make a podcast or video podcast of it, if you’d like). Or you can start a book club, where everyone can put forth their analyses and discuss each others’. Just find some way to make yourself process what you’re reading
Step 3: Read. Carefully
If a sentence, paragraph, or chapter don’t make sense to you, then stop and re-read it. What doesn’t make sense? Are they using jargon you don’t know? Go look up those words. Does the logic not make sense, you can’t follow their argument? Re-read the section, starting with their premise and following the logic step by step. Do the data seem wrong? Do a web search and see if you can find any evidence for or against their claims. Do you think there’s a glaring flaw in their reasoning? Write/record/bring it up in your book club, and explain where you think the flaw is and how your reasoning changes the conclusion being drawn. Don’t proceed until you’re sure you understand what the author is saying.
Step 4: Apply
You got into this because you wanted to learn something, to solve some problem you’re having. So how do these lessons help? If you’re learning some background theory, then apply each lesson or chapter to your situation: what do these statements imply about your scenario? If you’re learning a specific how-to, then what would you have to do in order to actually do these steps? What would they look like in the case of your business/product/family/life? I like to do this throughout the book, but you could do it at the end of each chapter or section if you prefer.
Step 5: Summarize
When you get to the end of the book, look back over what you’ve read. Look over the notes you made. What were the most important things? Why are they important? Overall, do you agree or disagree with the author? Why? What do you want to differently as a result of your reading?
There you go: the book-learning methods they never taught you in high school.
Resources for Further Reading
Writing for you, and why it works at drawing others to your blog