Learning to learn: Anyone can learn to …(program)

Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London

Tip 1: It is about effort not talent

So you want to learn (to program). The first and most important thing to realise is that with enough of the right kind of practice anyone can improve (and keep improving) at any skill (including programming). Our brains are amazing, they can just keep getting better if we do the right things.

Learning to program is not about talent. It is about effort and practicing enough in the right way.

There has been lots of research across lots of skills whether chess, violin playing, football, maths, english, swimming, memorising lots of random numbers… and the same result is found. Improving is not about innate talent. We all have wonderful brains. Genetics doesn’t stop anyone learning to be better. You can learn to program and you can get better and better.

Understanding this and putting it in to practice is called having a growth mind-set. Once you truly believe this and shake off the idea that some people are more talented than you, you have the keys to a new world of learning.

There is a rough rule. If you put in 10,000 hours of the right kind of practice then you too will be an expert – a wizard programmer. That is a lot, but then do that and people will call you a genius. Take it a step at a time. Practice for 10 hours and you will get better. Put in 10 more hours and you can improve more. Then put in 10 more and you can improve again. And so on. Put in 100 hours and you can be noticeably better. Then put in 100 more.

Shaking off the idea that other people are more talented is hard, especially when the person next to you seems to find it so much easier. Ignore them. They may have started before you; or done something previously that gave them a head start; or done more practice that you don’t know about, or have been practicing learning for longer, or … Don’t let them put you off. What they can do has no bearing on what you can do.

Also if other people tell you you have no talent, don’t let it get to you. They are just ignorant.  One day you can be great at it if you want to be badly enough and practice in the right way.

As a teacher, instilling a growth mind set in those you teach can help them do better too. Believe in every last student and research has shown they will do better, and improve more than if you don’t.

Learning is a skill to – so you can get better at it too with practice.

However, while working hard, putting in the time and effort matters, it is not enough. You need the right kind of practice. We will talk more about that in later tips.

If you are a:

  • student
    • Get in to the habit of whenever you find yourself saying “I cant …” or “I don’t understand…”, add on the end “…yet”. Practice doing it…
    • Constantly remind yourself that with practice you can get better, however hard it is now.
  • teacher:
    • Every time a student says “I cant …” or “I don’t understand…”, add on the end “…yet”.
    • Constantly remind your students: “It is not about talent. Anyone can learn to program. You can get better with practice.”

Further reading: Dweck, C, 2006, Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential: Constable & Robinson Ltd London

Watch out for more blog tips or …

get ahead with more on Learning to Learn (to program)

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