Why Writing Helps You Learn

Why Writing Helps You Learn

A journey on how writing improves the learning process for coders!

Víctor García Rubio's photo
Víctor García Rubio
·Sep 17, 2021·

5 min read

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Many of you may have tried to start technical writing and left it after a week.

Maybe someone has created a blog but stopped posting after a year.

You could have thought: “Why would I write for free if I don’t like it so much. I should see another YT tutorial about this random topic”

Maybe you have wondered: “Would I be the one that replies in StackOverflow one day?”

Some of you may feel identified by these sentences. I will try to explain to you my major motivation to write:

Writing makes me learn better!


Traditional learning methods SUCK!

While in college, I had to learn tons of things in a small amount of time. When the tests came, I could find myself with 8 exams in 4 days. This is Telecommunications Engineering we are talking about. Not a simple thing.

What would I do? What they have educated me for: Try to learn how to do some exercises from previous years. Memorize the parts that are always asked the same way.

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It worked for 4 years!

When I arrived at my Machine Learning master’s, I had to change. The math was the most complex I have seen in my life. Thanks to an outstanding set of teachers, I FOCUSED on understanding things in depth. What I have acquired there is one of the most durable knowledge I remember.

Here is when everything made sense.


Overcome the “Tutorial Syndrome”

We are born in the YouTube era. We have seen an incredible amount of videos for many topics to find a solution. A lot of content creators, almost infinite knowledge at hand. But let me ask you a question:

How much of this content did you remember after 3 days?

I will love to have some feedback in the comments. For me, almost nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I love YT and it has brought amazing content to our lives for free.

But watching videos, reading books, posts ... IT’S ALL PASSIVE!

It requires less attention than coding, for example. In my experience, I could think of a couple of concepts extracted from books. The information amazed me. It released all the dopamine it could.

Most of the time, we forgot every highlight we do in a book. Lines of CODE and TEXT, created with BLOOD and SWEAT, usually aren’t.

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Increase understanding of topics

If you could name a topic that writing didn’t help you understand better: I am a living lie.

Here I will use an example of my experience. I was reading “Head First Design Patterns”. Recommendable, by the way. In this book, each chapter describes in depth one or more Design Patterns. I was reading it almost every day. After a week I thought: “Okay, I did not remember any pattern. I don’t know how to apply them”

So I decided: “Let’s code them in a different language”. Book examples were in Java, so for me, the obvious pick was Python.

IT TOOK ME 3 DAYS to make the Abstract Factory work! 😅

Don’t have any doubt about this: I freaking know how to implement the abstract factory after that. And I also learn how to model a pizza franchise business 😆

What I want you to see with this is: Learning things that perdue in your memory takes time! Probably, we can develop the complex things without checking a guide thanks to multiple failed attempts and StackOverflow questions.

I will show you a graphic about the retention of information based on the channel we gain it after 2 weeks.

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Learning one thing at a time

As software developers, we live in an industry that is constantly evolving. It required us to manage a lot of tools. This urges us to learn a lot of different things.

I love to learn new things. I love that sensation of reading a paragraph and say: “My god, this is great to know”. Does Victor remember next month? Of course not.

I recommend everyone, including myself (the one that needs it the most): One thing at a time. Let’s spend a week learning a small concept. Let us say: DTOs in Java. If we learn them for a week, write an article about it. You could visit it if you have any doubts!

If you plan to learn something more complex, divide it and make it easier. A cloud certification, for example. Let’s say we plan to make it in 2 months.

  • Divide it into concepts by the guides of the provider and learn a service per week.

  • Read articles

  • Make labs

  • Write about the labs

  • Repeat

When you make the sample tests, I am sure you will understand everything.

PD: Skin in the game. I will try to do this for my next cloud certs.

Summary

Writing improves learning. This is FEKTS. The main points explain to defend this have been:

  • Traditional methods for learning with memorization do not work

  • Complex concepts need deep understanding to be used

  • Writing requires explaining. Explaining requires understanding.

  • Passive learning (Reading, Watching) vs Active learning (Coding, Writing)

  • Try to code the tutorial in a different programming language. Or model the same problem differently for the same one

  • We can revisit an article. We can’t revisit a thought

  • Learning one thing at a time


I am HONOURED if you have reached this point. Thanks a lot for reading 💙

Hopefully, I could illustrate how technical writing is important for learning as developers.

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Thanks and Keep It Up! 🦾🦾