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Much like anything, learning effectively on the Web requires a skill set that goes beyond constructing a solid keyword search in Google. Denise R. Jacobs shows you how to identify your learning style, introduces you to useful online tools, and explains the best ways to collaborate, share, and find inspiration.

by Denise Jacobs

Starting with teaching herself HTML in 1996, Denise R. Jacobs has worked with the Web in a range of capacities, from localization project management to instructing web design/development. At present, Denise is a Web Solutions Consultant in Miami, Florida, helping businesses transform their web presence. In addition to writing about the Web, she develops curricula for The Web Standards Project (WaSP) Education Task Force and is an organizing member of Social Media Club South Florida.

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Just because you use a tool every day doesn’t necessarily mean that you are using it well—especially if you’ve never learned what using it well means. This is certainly true with computers, as there are countless people who use computers daily but only to the degree of their limited knowledge. The same can be said for the Web, as many—even the generations who became familiar with computers before they were familiar with books—probably don’t use the Web and the vast numbers of useful tools contained therein to their fullest extent.

This chapter aims to provide a guide to using the Web better in order to more efficiently find the answers to your own questions, locate new sources of information and retain said new information. Further, we will look at good reasons and venues for getting help, knowing how to participate online, making and maintaining connections, organizing the information found, organizing yourself and expanding your learning through working with others.

About learning

My guess is that if you have started down the path to becoming a web professional, then you are no stranger to learning. However, there is taking in information, and then there is learning. What’s the difference? I see learning as an enjoyable process, where you actively seek the information that you need, find great sources, and easily incorporate the new knowledge into your current reserve of information, where it has staying power. Unfortunately, so much of what is passed off as learning—such as cramming information that doesn’t interest us into our heads to be able to pass a test or engaging in academic activities that don’t truly interest us and make us want to acquire more knowledge—doesn’t fit that profile.

In my opinion, real learning is pleasurable, and at the core of true learning is following and feeding your natural curiosity and being hungry for more. Being passionate and deeply interested in the subjects where you increase your knowledge will not only give you the capacity to learn more about them, but to have a great time while doing so.

Know your learning style

Knowing how you learn best ensures that you will be able to retain and easily access whatever information you attain—while also enjoying the process. Embarking on an endeavor such as acquiring new skills for a new profession or hobby takes initiative, and is made a lot easier if you know how gather the information for yourself so that you can best absorb it.

Let’s take a look at the most basic learning styles, and see which one(s) sounds most like you.

Visual and written learners

Do you find yourself wanting to sit at the very front of the room so you don’t miss anything? Do you get a lot from printed text, diagrams, and handouts? Do you tend to think in pictures? Congratulations, you are a visual learner.

Chances are that you remember what things look like and potentially where they are located on the page. You probably also like to take detailed notes, make annotations and write your ideas out to clarify them.

So how do you make this learning style work for you? Here are some suggestions:

  • Visualize information that you hear into representative pictures or text.
  • Sketch out your ideas as pictures or diagrams.
  • Take copious notes and use color to highlight points.
  • Read and study in a place with no sound distractions.

Auditory learners

Do you remember what has been said to you, often verbatim? Are you less concerned with where you sit in a classroom, as long as you can hear what is being said? Do you process your thoughts by talking them through, and gain a lot of understanding from discussions? If that sounds like you, then you are an auditory learner.

You probably don’t get as much from written text unless it’s read to you, and probably love books on tape. You may also be musically inclined and have a good ear for tone, pitch, and key.

So how do you make this learning style work for you? Here are some suggestions:

  • Take an active part in discussions and organize opportunities for talking about the subject.
  • Record classes or get audio or video recordings of lectures.
  • Read text aloud so that you can hear it.
  • Express your ideas verbally and accentuate with stories and analogies.

Kinesthetic learners

Do you find it hard to sit still for very long? When in a classroom, are you wishing that everyone would stop reading and talking about subjects and actually do something? Do you get easily distracted by movement and gesture while you talk? These qualities mean that you are a kinesthetic learner who learns best through doing, movement and touch.

You may be prone to tapping a foot while sitting down and to being physically active. If someone shows you how to do something once, you have no problem repeating it, and then probably improving upon it.

So how do you make this learning style work best for you?

  • Skim through readings once before reading them again in detail.
  • Read or study standing up, while doing something physical (like on an exercise machine), or while chewing gum.
  • Do something with your hands while learning (like sculpt something, fold paper, etc.).
  • Take study breaks where you move around.

Once you know how you learn best, you will have a better idea of the types of sources that you will get the most value out of when looking for information on the Web. However, your learning style is not the only thing that determines how well you take in information. Our brains are naturally wired to learn better when we are engaged, relaxed, when more of our senses are stimulated, and when we follow our natural urge to explore.

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