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Continuous Learning Strategies for Successful Developers

To stay competitive as a software developer in today’s rapidly changing industry, you have to be innovative, adaptable and flexible. Whether you wish to learn a new subject or brush up on an old one, you need to study on your own and put in the effort to retain that information over time. So how can you foster a habit of continuous learning and development? And how can you overcome self-directed learning challenges?

Lifelong learning is an integral part of being a good developer.

What You’ll Learn

  • How to create a mindset and routine for continuous learning.
  • A plan to develop specific strategies for efficient solo study.
  • How to overcome obstacles to continuous learning.

You’ll start by taking a look at why solo study is so important to being a successful mobile developer.

Why Do Developers Need Continuous Learning?

Continuous learning is the process of constantly acquiring new knowledge and skills — or brushing up old ones — to enhance your personal and professional growth. In the context of software development, continuous learning means staying up-to-date with the latest technologies, programming languages, frameworks and best practices.

Continuous learning is especially important for developers because it helps:

  • Stay abreast of changes in technology.
  • Retain what you have already learned.

Technology is not a stable field. Tools, languages, and operating systems evolve over time, people discover new best practices to achieve great outcomes, and innovations (like AI) shake up the industry. Continuous learning helps you stay on top of the wave so you aren’t wasting time and resources on outdated methods.

Furthermore, you probably know that if you don’t use skills regularly, you lose them. Continuous learning helps overcome the forgetting curve. According to Herman Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve research, information is easier to remember when it is based on prior knowledge, as the graph below illustrates. Each time you practice what you’ve learned, the rate of decline decreases.

Graph showing the forgetting curve decreasing with repetition

Forgetting curve when using spaced repetition (from Wikiwand).

Developers who cultivate an identity as a solo learner see benefits like:

  • Improved productivity and performance: Research has found that learning keeps brain cells working at optimum levels for longer. By continuously updating your skills, you’ll work more efficiently, write better code and avoid making mistakes that could lead to costly errors.
  • Increased job satisfaction and motivation: Learning new things is exciting and fulfilling. It helps you feel more engaged and motivated in your work.
  • Enhanced career growth and job security: You compete in an era where companies have many choices. By staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends, you position yourself as an expert in your field, which can help you secure your job and advance your career.

So now that you know why it’s so important to keep learning throughout your development career, the next question is how you can build self-study into your routine.

Strategies to Cultivate a Continuous Learning Mindset

By building continuous learning into your role as a developer, you’ll not only stay relevant, but also improve your skills and stay ahead of the competition. But as we all know, it’s easy to let upskilling slide when you’re dealing with daily pressures. To avoid that, you’ll learn practical tips for incorporating continuous learning into your routine, including:

  • Adding “continuous learner” to your self-image.
  • Putting together a learning path to follow.
  • Creating your learning system.
  • Building your learning support system.
  • Putting what you learned into practice.

By following these tips, you can build the foundation of a lifelong learning habit that helps you grow both personally and professionally. Next, you’ll find out how to do it.

Cultivating Your Self-Image as a Lifelong Learner

How you think about your ability to learn plays a big part in how effective — and how enjoyable — solo study is for you. So if you’ve ever thought that you’re not a good student, put those fears aside and believe in something better for yourself.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear claims that the best method for changing your habits is to concentrate on who you want to become rather than what you want to accomplish. Simply put, your current behaviors are a reflection of your current identity.

Decide to become a consistent learner and believe you can do it. Then, consider the habits a consistent learner would follow — and adopt them. Start small to build momentum.

Next, focus on your environment. The environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. Small changes in context over time can result in significant changes in behavior. So set yourself up for success by creating an environment that helps you learn.

To create a nourishing learning environment, focus on cultivating habits, choosing appropriate resources and creating the physical and mental space to encourage yourself to continuously acquire knowledge.

Putting Together a Learning Path

According to Benjamin Franklin, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. So set a plan for your self-study by creating a learning path to keep focused on your target — even if you already have experience in the field you’re studying.

How can you find a learning path for a topic you don’t know well? Here are three ideas:

  • Search for a documented learning path for the subject or industry you want to explore. Many developers post roadmaps for particular subjects or even an entire programming language on their blogs or LinkedIn profiles.
  • Senior engineers can help out by either sharing their own roadmaps with you or pointing you in the direction of a good one.
  • Finally, if you were unable to locate a pre-built roadmap, you might make your own by using the table of contents from books or courses.

If you find a good learning path that you’d like to follow someday, save it till you begin working on it. You’ll thank me later.

Note: Kodeco offers learning paths for many topics in iOS, Flutter and Android and other platforms. Click the Learn tab at the top of the page for more information.

Once you know what you want to learn, you need to create a system to help you accomplish your solo study goals.

Creating Your Learning System

After setting your roadmap and goals, shift your focus to creating your learning system. Remember, goals are about the outcomes you want to reach, while systems are the steps that will get you there.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear claims that you fall to the level of your systems rather than rising to the level of your goals. If you’re having trouble changing your learning habits, it’s not your fault; the problem is in your system.

Here are some suggestions for creating your own learning system:

  • Start with the basics: Don’t attempt to climb Everest first; you’ll become depressed and give up. Learning the basics will make it much simpler to deal with the more challenging situations.

    When you try to piece together complex parts of code without a solid understanding of the fundamentals, you’ll make complex mistakes. Even if you find the solutions for those mistakes, you won’t know how to apply them. So even if you know a good bit about the topic, go over the basics before proceeding.

  • Benefit from Pareto’s Rule: According to the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 Rule, you usually see 80% of your success from 20% of your efforts. When learning something new, identify the 20%: topics that will help you grasp 80% of the subject. Focus on those first to see the biggest effect. After that, you can gradually inspect the rest of the subject.
  • Pick a daily highlight: In the book, Make Time, the authors presented a productivity trick known as the daily highlight. Every day, you pick just one thing to be the highlight of the day. You only concentrate on studying that one subject each day.

    To put this into practice, take the learning plan you outlined and divide it into sections. Pick a topic from each section for your highlight each day or once a week. This keeps your attention on your learning goals and keeps you from getting sucked into your to-do list.

  • Block your time: According to the time-blocking concept, you should schedule a block of time for any important task you need to do. You can take the daily highlight rule a step further and block a specific time to complete your daily highlight in your calendar.

    Atomic Habits supports this concept. It claims that the two most common cues to build a habit are time and location. By setting a specific time and location for your studying, it’s easier to overcome reluctance or procrastination.

Now that you have a system set up for studying, it’s time to create a support system to help you keep track of what you learned in the future.

Building Your Learning Support System

Your support system is a collection of resources you can consult when you want to learn something new or review information you have already gathered about a subject. Two important elements of your learning support system are your resource list and your cheat sheets list. Next, you’ll see how to create both lists.

  • The resource list: In this list, you’ll include any sources you find helpful for the subject you want to study. These could include personal blogs, online courses, books on the internet, YouTube channels, apps or online tools. Also add links to your online accounts and projects to this list to make it easier to access them. Make a list of such websites in your preferred note-taking app or bookmark them in your browser.
  • The cheat sheets list: Summarizing what you’ve learned is one of the finest strategies to cement information in your memory. This list also serves as a helpful reference if you want to return to the subject in the future.

Once you’ve created these valuable resources, use your favorite notes app to keep both lists organized and available everywhere. Use the websites’ highlighting tools to keep a reference list for the key information you acquired.

Next, you’ll get an overview of how to develop the art of practicing effectively to retain information long-term.

Cultivating the Skill of Learning by Doing

Of course, it’s important to learn the theory behind the new skills you’re trying to gain — but if you want to retain that information moving forward, you need to put that theory into practice. To make skills stick, nothing beats actually using them.

Practicing while you learn is crucial for several reasons:

  • Firstly, it helps you understand the concepts and techniques you learned at a deeper level, making it easier for you to remember them.
  • Secondly, it enables you to recognize and fix any errors or misunderstandings you could have, improving the quality of your work.
  • Practicing also lets you show off your knowledge by including the personal projects you’ve developed in your resume and profiles.
  • Finally, it helps you build your problem-solving skills, enabling you to tackle more complex challenges as you progress in your learning.

The best way to develop your skills is to use them in a personal project that you’re passionate about. Start simple, then advance to more challenging projects that are popular in your business or field.

Pair coding is another good way to strengthen your skills. Find a partner and work on your projects in pairs. This will let you share information and improve your performance.

Diversifying Your Solo Learning Methods

Two different study methods: solo coding to the left, attending a seminar to the right

Varying your solo study methods helps you learn better. Image created by AI.

You live in the information age, where a wealth of information is available to you in many different forms. Take advantage of this by varying the ways you self-study. This will show you many perspectives on the same subject, while increasing your productivity and keeping you from getting bored.

Here are some different methods to use in your solo study:

  • Studying online courses and tutorials.
  • Reading books and magazines.
  • Subscribing to blogs or newsletters.
  • Attending conferences and workshops.
  • Cooperating with a peer learner or joining a community.
  • Following a mentor.
  • Building personal projects and experimentation.

Pick a few of these methods at a time to try out to get a well-rounded educational plan.

At this point, you have learned the skills you need to create a solid solo learning plan. You’ve acquired some self-study techniques, and covered how to organize what you’ve learned and retain the information down the road. Next, you’ll learn some tactics to overcome a natural resistance to solo learning.

Overcoming Obstacles to Continuous Learning

While continuous learning offers numerous benefits, there are some common obstacles that developers may face. These include:

  • Time constraints: Developers often feel that they don’t have enough time to devote to learning, especially if they have busy work schedules. However, by following the daily highlight and time blocking strategies, you can gradually build your skills and knowledge over time without overwhelming yourself.
  • Loss of motivation or interest: You’re not likely to learn a new skill with just a few days of study. Instead, consider your expectations; setting them too high can leave you demotivated or depressed. Learning is challenging, and you might struggle to find the motivation to keep going.

    However, by focusing on topics that you find interesting and engaging, you can make learning something you look forward to doing. Additionally, using a learning system will assist you when you lose motivation. Remember that acquiring new skills involves dedication and persistence over time to absorb that new knowledge.

  • Budget constraints: Some learning resources, such as conferences and certifications, come with a price tag. However, developers can look for free or low-cost alternatives, such as scholarships, online courses or open-source projects. This is one of the advantages of varying your self-study methods.

Key Takeaways

  • Continuous learning is necessary for developers to be able to compete in this information era.
  • To commit to lifelong learning attitude, you have to believe in your identity as a learner and create a learning path to follow.
  • Building your learning and support systems will boost your productivity in self-study.
  • You can overcome many obstacles to continuous learning by blocking time for learning, sticking with your learning system and varying your solo study methods.

Do you use your own learning techniques or have any previous experience with learning difficulties? Share them by joining the forum discussion below. This will help others in overcoming the same difficulties you faced.

About the Author

Mina Gerges spent five years working in the biomedical industry before deciding to change his path and become an iOS developer. He struggled to secure his first job as a software developer, went through difficult times, felt many doubts and later experienced imposter syndrome. He ended up becoming a skilled iOS developer with five years of expertise. He learned the importance of lifelong learning and its tricks through this journey. He uses this experience to overcome learning challenges in his daily life.

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