What I'm learning and building in 2021

Ramses Oudt • Reading time: 6 minutes

I’m not the type to do an annual review; having ADHD, looking back a quarter is a stretch, let alone a year. But, some direction is needed to not end up in shit. My solution? Live with intention.

Every quarter, I look ahead to what’s coming my way and plan how to prepare best. If you’ve been following this blog and my newsletter for a while, you’ll know I prepare by doing learning projects.

People have told me I have an obsessive personality when it comes to learning. Starting with Spanish about 13 years ago, I want to know the best ways to acquire different skills. This led to my fascination with metalearning (AKA learning how to learn).

While I’ve had great success applying learning principles to different domains and skills, it doesn’t feel satisfying enough. Mid-2019, I realized that I want to help people acquire metalearning skills, aligning with the Chinese proverb:

“Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime."

But I don’t know everything, so I need to keep learning. My to-learn list has been growing steadily over the previous year as I quit my corporate job and decided to teach online. Not only did I have to learn the business side of things, but I also had to adapt my in-person teaching style to work just as well online.

By now, it’s clear what I need to learn, and it boils down to three primary skills:

I’ll be using them to teach and further flesh out the three pillars I’ve identified for every successful learning project:

Let’s dig into each skill I want to further cultivate this year before ending with how I plan to learn them using the three pillars.

Skill 1: Writing

Writing is the most important skill I want to polish this year.

While writing and publishing weekly since 2007, I’ve only recently discovered my writing voice. Still, I feel I need too many words to explain relatively simple things, spend too much time editing, and obsess too much over it being perfect to be sustainable. Writing is high on my list to make a daily habit and become better at it through sheer (deliberate) practice.

Writing is also an excellent tool to learn. In the last nine months, I’ve been writing about using digital tools to learn various skills. As a result, I understand better how humans generally learn and found ways to apply science-backed learning principles to my own process. Because I have to explain these things using text, I have to make them as concise a possible. By writing and rewriting about the skills I’m learning, I’m gaining a deeper understanding of the concepts I’m teaching.

This reminds me of a quote by Richard Feynman, which he had written down in the corner of his blackboard at the time of his death:

“What I cannot create, I do not understand."

Writing, I hope, will help me to understand through creation. And to make this goal actionable, I’ve joined the Ship 30 for 30 program to force myself to write and publish a 250-word essay every day.

Skill 2: Sketchnoting

Not everything is best explained using text, so next up are my drawing skills.

In 2019, I started to dabble with sketchnotes only to abandon them in frustration. Some months ago, I realized that this was just because I wasn’t attacking the topic strategically, nor did I have enough use for it. But now that I’ve found that some ideas better lend themselves for a visual explanation than a written one, I want to become better at this part of teaching.

Sketchnotes are excellent thinking and teaching tools. I aim to help myself learn more quickly by explaining things visually to myself (and others). But as my visual skills are mediocre at best, this is an area where deliberate practice will help me remove friction once and for all.

Skill 3: Web development

Writing and sketching online are only useful if I have a distribution platform.

Building RoamStack and Learning Worker Club, I’ve increasingly grown frustrated by the online platforms out there. Living in Europe with strict (and ludicrous) tax laws, I have to automate more than is dear to me; dynamically calculating VAT, generating invoices and tying all systems together for a smooth user experience. The only solution is to build it myself.

By choosing to build most of my distribution platforms myself, I have to improve my web development skills. Luckily, millions of learners went before me, and this is an area for which there are lots of high-quality learning resources. I’ll use as many no-code tools as possible but will not compromise if a platform doesn’t do what I need it to do. In those cases, I’ll bolt on the solution myself, for which constant learning will be a given.

All in all, knowing (no-code) web development also allows me to kickstart more projects alone, making it a meta-skill.

How I’ll be learning

As always, I’ll be learning in public. The Sunday School newsletter will remain on a bi-weekly schedule for now, but the focus will be much more on what I’m learning and how I’m learning it.

While the topics on your to-learn list may be different, I aim to provide you with frameworks and strategies that apply to a broad range of skills. In that sense, Sunday School will finally become more like a real school.

As said, I’ll also be launching Learning Worker Club. How ‘the Club’ is going to pan out is unsure; a large part will be community-driven, and I’ll act as a curating facilitator, writing down the takeaways and making them easily accessible. In other words: the Sunday School newsletter will feature a lot of content from the communities I facilitate and less about randomly curated pieces as it’s now.

Everything I do and teach in 2021 will rest on three pillars:

Without a mindset, my ADHD brain will not have enough dopamine to function. And before I can execute (actually learn), I need strategies that help me make the most of my time and attention. Working with these pillars, I’ll try to help others implement them in their own learning process.

Mindset

The most important mindset is to realize that my current skills aren’t fixed.

I learned most skills and gained most wisdom working a fulltime job, not sitting in a college bench listening to a professor drone on about something irrelevant. Knowing that I can learn with everything I do and that some learning methods are better than others is half the battle.

Strategy

It baffles me how few people strategize when they decide to learn a skill. The majority digs in and does little planning to ensure they’re learning in the most effective way possible.

I want to make sure that I’m using the most effective approach in everything that I do. While there’s a lot of trial and error in finding the best path for me, many researchers and fellow learners can help me reduce the time it needs to find the best methods.

Execution

Learning is useless if I’m not going to do anything with the knowledge or skills.

What I learn will be mostly shown in the products and services I deliver. I document why and how I do things (mindset and strategy), and the creations are the the what.

Up until now, I’ve been mostly talking about execution. Reading, taking notes, and organizing knowledge have been the focal point of my blog posts and newsletters—assuming people know how to learn with the information they gather.

I was wrong; most people don’t know how their brain works, so they waste a lot of time accumulating knowledge that they’ll never use. So while I’ll be writing about the proper execution of learning projects, the other two pillars will first get some more love this year.

Join me

Are you with me to learn the skills that will give you more freedom and allow you to work in a way that plays on your strengths in 2021? Or will you shy away from learning and stay where you were in 2020? The choice is entirely yours.

I’ll be writing more about my learning endeavors in my bi-weekly Sunday School newsletter. Do you have a skill in mind you’d like to learn but don’t know where to start? Drop your email address below and join the learners’ movement.