Learning is messy
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Learning is messy

Professional learner Ramses Oudt explains why learning is inherently a messy process, which is why structures and consistent reflection need to always be in place to get the most out of learning.
 
Connect with Ramses at https://twitter.com/rroudt
 
Find out more about Superlearning at https://superlearners.traverse.link/.
 
 
Transcript
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the super learners podcast. Today I'm joined by Ramses Oudt. Ramses created a community around Roam research. He describes himself as a professional learner. He used to get paid to continue to learn new skills as markets were developing and currently he's helping other people in his community acquire new skills. So welcome Ramses.
Thank you for having me Dom. I love it to be here. It's always great to talk about learning. So happy to be here.
Yeah, definitely. It's very interesting. And so I see that you mentioned that in the past you actually got paid to learn new skills. So talk a bit more about what the context was there and how you learned those skills.
Yeah. So I started actually out as a Spanish teacher. So the first skill I had to learn was Spanish because I didn't actually speak Spanish, although I wanted to become a teacher, but I wanted to challenge myself. So I gradually rolled into learning how to learn in college. But then once I graduate.
There were not many jobs available in the Netherlands for Spanish teachers where I live. So actually I had to move into another domain, another industry, and I ended up in sales really at the bottom as a telemarketer. And I moved my way up. Basically the corporate ladder in the subsequent 9 to 10 years, learning new skills and basically being paid to continuously learn new technologies, new techniques, starting in sales, that was just techniques.
But then later on, as my sales skills became better and I moved into more technical solutions, I also had to build my technical skills. So that is basically why I see myself as a professional learner. I spent so much time just reading stuff, doing courses. Well getting paid by my employers.
Yeah. That's great. And already in that time that you were working in sales, did you have any special techniques for quickly acquiring new skills or how did you?
Went a little bit hit and miss. So in the beginning, my learning how to learn skills were basically around language learning or language acquisition as I like to think of it.
So that is a whole different approach I thought initially. So I learned through lots of watching television And doing flashcards for example, and I had trouble in the beginning translating that. So the only thing that I did that did help were like memorizing little sentences and questions using almost like a space algorithm.
So that they came out more naturally as I was having a conversation with people because I was completely out of my depth. I didn't know much about the solutions I was talking about with people, but I felt that I had to fake it till I. I did read a lot of sales books but I didn't really internalize the knowledge because it felt very theoretical.
So. That took some struggling. Basically how I learned most of my telephone skills was by just listening to how other people did it. I'm sitting in asking them questions shadowing almost their intonation. So we were listening, carefully So those, I would say where the first steps onto the path of deliberate practice, deliberate dissecting skills.
Whereas before the language Spanish I learned was just brute force. But it became more nuanced over time. Yeah.
All right. And then afterwards, yeah, now you started building this community online. So no doubt, you have to learn a lot of new skills for that as well. So how did you approach that orwere you able to use any of the techniques you used before, or was this like a completely different new kind of learning for you?
A few things, so. Basically in sales, I really became good at taking notes. So I think that is how I entered this community of Roam research of people interested in note-taking because I had a professional use for taking notes. So not only did I have to take notes to give those notes to someone else who was the excellent going to visit the potential client, because I started as a telemarketer, so I wasn't going through the clients myself, but I started also to take notes on, okay, what works, what doesn't work, basically taking more of a meta view of my work.
And then also talking with other people with similar roles within the company about, okay, how do you approach these things? So. That is how I got to the note-taking space And then as my roles become more and more technical, I also became more technical myself. And I ended up in my last role in a company where I was basically responsible for the recruitment, the infrastructure.
So starting at the recruitment website, all the way to the contracting system and all the steps in between. So I already had some experience with looking up different tools, even if I wasn'tdoing it all myself, because I was working with programmers or integration consultants, at least I've learned to think this way.
So once I decide, okay, I want to work with professionals on this basically meta skill of how do you learn new things? How do you look at what you have to know in your job? And then actually go out and learn it and facilitate all that. Those tools for the website, but then also having processes basically to take people through onboarding and thinking about their workflows, all that I learned in my jobs.
And I just started to formalize it for myself before I even quit my job by taking notes on. Okay. What do I already know? And how will this apply once I will branch out on my own. That like, I really look for a way to distill the knowledge that I already had. I was just basically looking at what do I already know?
How can I apply what I already know, maybe on a smaller scale and then what do I still need to learn? Or who would, I need to hire to be able to build something for me or get something done? So that is basically my approach. Smoothly transitioning into building my own business.
Right. Yeah. That's great. And then when you started out building this business, were you clear from the beginning that it would be kind of like a paid learning community? Or how did this idea form or did that take some iterations? Like how did you get there.
Yeah, it's been a learning experience all the way. So I started out with a vision. Actually. I started out with a partner. We had similar visions about, okay, how do we actually learn a tool like roam research? And the reason why we started this website roam stack was because we just saw a need in the community for something else, than courses, because everything was around courses, cohort-based courses, self-paced courses, but we felt like.
Most people just have very specific questions. They have something in their mind that they want to build. How do you actually build it? So we started out as a knowledge space that evolved as people needed, still needed help into more of a community where we had a forum, then it's also a discord chat. And that was basically, we were just spotting needs in the community.
Back then the Roam research team didn't have much of a support structure. So we were basically doing support for people who we didn't want it to take this to the next level. And slowly it's been evolving into more of a community about doing professional work. So it's a community of people who work in consulting. Many people working consulting or they are freelancers, maybe there are programmers, but they take on everything themselves, or they need to help people through different processes. So it started as a knowledge hub and it's for very specific functionality in a very specific note-taking tool to more of a holistic approach to knowledge work for consultants freelancers or people who are like at at the fringes of their domain where they push innovation. So they're doing research and that is basically how I found my audience of people like people doing similar things, they all flocked to Roam research research, but then in the end it didn't become about the tool anymore. It's just about how do you actually do knowledge work and how do you learn new skills?
How do you process information? How do you decide, what do you offload to an external system and how do you decide what to actually assimilate and make your own like skill, skill building and stuff like that.
Nice. And I think that's very interesting, cause I just said like, usually it starts with self-learning people exploring on their own, but then they still need that help and they need that community. So can you talk a bit about how like your community or communities in general help accelerate the learning? That one does maybe by themselves?
Yeah. Good question. I actually think that I became such a avid learner because of communities. So like I said, I, I started out learning Spanish or because I wanted to become a teacher, but I didn't have any clue how to learn a language.
So I found some communities online that stuck with one, and that was basically just Repository of like reports of how people were learning languages. So they were sharing what they were doing, like their, what their goals were, what level of language they wanted to achieve, what they wanted to be able to do.
And then there are pros and everyone was chiming in they're sharing their own experiences. So that is still what happens in the community that I call it cultivating. I don't really like community building because we're people and it happens a little bit organically. So I'm trying to cultivate almost like a community of practice.
So we have similar goals. Maybe your, I don't know, maybe you're independent consultants and you take up gigs from clients and you need to deliver something like a piece of knowledge basically, or process the same counts for when you're independent programmer, you have documentation. You need to deliver, you need to explain some things to clients.
You need to take them through processes. So I'm really looking for people who have similar goals needs to learn new skills, face similar challenges in their job. And that is how I want to cultivate my community so that we can all learn from each other. And I think depending on the skill set that you're trying to acquire be it if you're a programmer, then I believe you should hang out in programming communities, not just to ask questions, but also to figure out what is the roadmap of my desired skillset.
And I think that this more happening in the programming space, where you have curriculums, but you have also forums where people say, well, if you're interested in this skill, then you should also check out that skill. Or if you want to learn this framework, you first need to know this and that.
So I really believe in community for finding a roadmap and finding also your group of people who you can ask questions when you're stuck and to push through plateaus. And sometimes it's just nice to have a community to have people who went through similar pains like you so that you can stay motivated. They can share your frustrations.
Yeah, definitely like, yeah, it's both like accountability support. And then yet is guidance of finding the roadmap. I think that those are all very valuable things that our community can provide. And then I guess the next question becomes, so say, I wanna, I want to learn some skill, like programming or digital marketing or whatever. How do I find the community that's right for me, like for me at my particular stage, With my particular goals. How could I find a community now that the communities are popping up everywhere and it's becoming almost overwhelming to choose one, right?
Yes. Ooh, that's a good question. I have not like I have not found a consistent way of finding the community yet, so I think it boils down to really getting into your domain. So. I always start out by reading articles about just a skill I want to build. Then often I find maybe apps that are being repeated over and over again.
I might stumble on some forum just by Googling for some skillset. I went to learn them or some very specific concepts. And that is often how I find forums in the first place. Which tends to be public communities. So I classify them more social media. So Twitter in that case is also very good.
Like I try to look on Twitter. I also use Twitter just by asking people, Hey, I want you to learn this and this skill, and this is my wanted outcome. And this is how much time I have to dive into the skill. What are the, who are the people I need to, what are the websites that need to check out or sometimes it just asks for community, but learning in itself is still messy.
Everybody's starting point is different. So maybe if I'm getting into a new programming language, I don't need to start with the beginner course. I already know programming language, but maybe I do want to get into a specific language or framework. So that's when I started with Twitter.
Google, find courses, often courses have communities and, but it takes time. It's real human interaction. It's getting into a community. And after a while, you'll notice that you start to see the same people in different courses maybe, or in different communities. And that is where I really find my community.
So my community doesn't really congregate in one place. I see them different places, even the members in my community. I help them sometimes on Reddit because I see them on Reddit or I see them in some other chat surface on discord server. So that is basically how you built your personal network.
But it's a process. And it has to be, I think because you have your personalized needs, but you also have your own strengths. So as you get to know people. They got to know you, your skillset, your interests. And I've met many people who just knew what I was interested in and then they would send me a message and they would say, Hey, I know you're interested in learning this.
Have you ever talked to this person because maybe you have some overlapping interests, he has some skills that you want to learn, and I know you have some skills he wants to learn. So you're almost become like learning buddies, but it's an organic process, I think. But you do need to expose yourself.
You do need to share what you know. Not only because I think that helps you to learn if you share what you know, but that also makes you almost like a beacon for other people to reach out to you. And maybe you stumble upon very interesting opportunities to learn more, but also professional opportunities.
So yeah. Definitely. I love that. It starts with community, but ultimately it boils down to your personal network, the personal connections you make, the people you meet on your journey and yeah, it basically learning together. So as you are like a Roam research experts as well, what I would like to ask you is you mentioned learning is a messy process, but obviously like, especially people maybe like with engineering backgrounds, et cetera, like to try to formalize that process in a tool like Roam research and how do you go about that yourself? And do you just allow messiness or do you have a very structured process.
It's both. I think you need to have some structure. So there are a few techniques that I like to use, things like reviews and I think learning is learning effectively is very much tied in with productivity in some sense.
So being able to focus, if you want to learn something, just like deep work it's a type of deep work. But that also means you need to plan your session. So I think within a session, things can be very messy and you can have some structure that what you want to do, but then you get stuck and you need to figure a way through you're looking for answers, but then the overreaching process can be more structured.
So maybe you have a weekly review and you pick the stuff that you're going to work on that week. If you take a little bit of a longer view, like between one and three months and I think max. When looking one quarter ahead is probably best to then look okay. What is probably going to be on my path?
If you're a knowledge worker, if you work in like in an organization with some projects, planning, some projects calendars, you can already look ahead what skill sets you might need. And then you can look into, okay, what do I lack? So, for example, I realized at some point we were doing some project charters at work we had to because we're going through a reorganization and I was looking ahead and I thought, okay, in six months, I need to lead this project, but I suck at project management.
So I needs to step up my project management game. And then I can have that little bit more structure so I pick some courses, I go through some courses, but then on the detail level on a lesson level. I maybe starting again. So that could be messy. It could be like, oh, I'm learning this framework here, but it's way overkill for what I want to do here.
Or I'm learning this framework here, but it's only for small team projects, whereas I will need two teams, 30 people. So asking yourself those questions, evaluating stuff, testing things out and I think reflecting on what you learned and what you actually have to do that can give you some structure that you need.
But I still believe that learning inherently is messy, but you can guide yourself a little bit by planning ahead and reflecting on what you learned to make it, to give yourself a little bit of control of where you're going. But ultimately. You cannot completely control what you, what will stick, what you will learn and if what you're learning ends up being useful, it's still a little bit hit and miss, but you can become better. I think if you do consistent reflection and reflect also on the materials that you choose, but it's again, learning how to learn. It's a skill in itself. So, and this is part of the skill I would say.
Yeah, definitely. And I think reflection is really powerful. It's done well, not only for you for your personal goals, but also for what you're learning and how that can help you. So yeah, definitely love that reflection helps, but it will always stay messy to some extent So in this journey that you made, basically from sales teaching to building this community, building your own online business, what has been your biggest learning challenge and how did you overcome that?
So yeah, what I think what I said before, basically learning how to learn was my biggest challenge. And then, because I've terrible ADHD, I think being able to focus on things and not being led by just my curiosity I think that has been my biggest struggle. The structure, like having some structured approach.
I think everything I've been talking about just right now has been my, probably my biggest challenge, because the reason I'm talking about it is because I'm so conscious of it because I had so much pain to actually break through it. Language learning was quite easy because I could just watch cartoons. And my focus time to actually study was very limited, maybe half an hour to an hour per day. And then I would just supplement it with massive amounts of platoon. So I wasn't really worried about that, but as my skill building became more and more pervasive, And my boss would say, well, you can spend two hours this afternoon doing whatever you want.
Like I couldn't just goof off and follow my curiosity. So I had to structure it a little bit more. And I think that is where my biggest challenge was. And I think that is also the biggest challenge for many people. Unless of course you have some more structure. And I think, again, especially in the programming space, you have maybe courses or boot camps or more communities. I think where you can go through the material in a more structured way. I think it's also a little bit easier to define, for example, when you're learning, how to program what you need to learn. But if you're going to learn public speaking, if you're going to learn project management, those are more soft skills.
And I think it's more trial and error and you need to be made maybe even more structured as to not go off in all kinds of directions, because you have less, you have less guardrails to hold on to. So I think you need to set those for yourself, but that, yeah, that takes time. I think, to master that skill you know, picking what materials to work on, how long to work on it, when to work on it, what to do with it.
And I think that's also why I like to always connect learning to real life scenarios. So stuff that actually needs to get done at a specific time. So really make it a project that does help to I think that has been my biggest help, probably making it a project and instead of an open-ended thing.
So. Looking at what I was going to face at what time I would need to have probably sorted skills and then make it a project. So picking the materials, making a weekly plan, monthly plan, reflection moments but that went with a lot of falling and getting up and falling again and getting up and failing, but then slowly becoming better at it.
Yeah, definitely. It's always a long journey. And maybe that is a nice way to bridge into the next question. Like we have a lot of tools nowadays, like from research, obviously I'm working on one and at our hands, there's more and more information and people feel this. Do you think tools can actually help manage people help people manage this overwhelm and learn faster or will it always be as messy as we talked about before, like what is the role of tools and how do you see that changing in the future?
Yeah. Yes. I've been thinking a lot about this. I think most people step into trap of hoping, I think hope is the right word, hoping that a tool will sell, solve their problems. But when I talk about tools, I no longer just think about software or hardware.
It's also thinking processes almost like steps you go through mentally. And does it matter what, but if you're a writer, just knowing the writing process, because you went through it so many times that in itself is a tool, especially when you can formalize it a little bit. So I think tools are important, but like, it always boils down to you actually doing the things.
So You need to figure out when is the best time for you to study specific types of information or to practice a skill? No tool is going to help you with that. Figure it out. You have to do it. A tool can support like you when you journal, when you keep a learning journal and you write about your energy levels and how well you were big, be able to concentrate, you will be able to find patterns.
But you still need to show up every day to actually fight that journal entry and to figure out a way how to revisit that. And then again, there are tools that help you with the process, but it still boils down to, I believe that make learning a habit, you have to show up repeatedly. You can use tools to remind you of things, but if you don't actually sit down to do it then nothing is going to help you, but it doesn't just apply to learning. It also apply to just doing all this work. I see so many alternatives, the room set community. So many professionals who started out with this hope of, oh, this school is going to help me to realizing I have no idea how to use this tool to, oh, now I know how to use this tool, but actually it doesn't help me get stuff done.
So in the same way that in all its work maybe needs to deliver, I don't know, something random, a report or a book or white paper, whatever, someone who's learning new skills once. Like the one outcome is being able to perform a skill repeatedly. So how'd you get there? You need to figure it out. And I think it takes some beliefs. So for example, having a growth mindset knowing that you can push through plateaus, but that's a mental thing. How you actually evaluate materials to decide what, how it's going to help you. Or if it's going to help you, you can run through a checklist that will help you evaluate a piece of knowledge.
That would be. Almost a tool, even though it doesn't depend on a specific tool, but still, I think it also boils down to a little bit of intuition and you need to train that intuition. So it's not just the tools, it's you bring yourself to it every day. So I think you are the most important part of the equation, right?
Yeah. I love that. Like falls down to building your beliefs, your intuition, and then it's almost like the tools take care of themselves.
Yeah, because you will be able to spot how it tool is going to help you, because if you really know what problem you're trying to solve, then you will know as you start to learn new tools, you will start to see, okay. Oh, this was going to help me being able to help me with this. Whereas I think many people, especially in this tools for thought learning tools, space, note taking tool space. Many people really liked the tool and they look at the tool and then they think, oh, it has all these different features. What can I do with it?
But it feels like putting the cart before the horse. You will want to start with what are my needs and how do I get there? And that's why I think. Learning being messy. It's good. You're just trying to get to your wanted outcome and then it doesn't really matter how you get there in the end.
Although you will want to know some way how you got there so you can repeat it, but then the end, the, the ones that result is having that skill. And it's not really what tools you use to, to achieve that skill. I think.
Yeah. So I think we covered a lot of ground there. So Ramses is what I always ask is who do you think I should interview next?
Yeah, I've been thinking about it. It seems like you've already interviewed many people in this space. I would say if you're interested in talking with people who are into language learning I think you should ask Matt who has a YouTube channel called math versus Japan. I think you will will help put your views on language learning upside down.
Like he has very counter-intuitive advice, but having used that advice myself before I even knew him, but we use similar techniques. I know it works. But I think many people are very, they try to learn a skill as if it were just sorry that many people learn languages as if it were another skill.
Whereas I think language is different in the way that it really becomes a part of you. So it really becomes deep. I wouldn't say knowledge, but it becomes like an intuition. Like just when you speak your native language, you know, when something sounds. And when something sounds correct, I think that's where you want to get to at that level.
And that is not just about, that's not about memorizing grammar or anything. So for unconventional way to learning languages, I think you should talk to Matt. But I didn't know how many people are interested in that. So I dunno. I think it's really interesting. I always like to have my views challenged, so I'll think I'll reach out to Matt, Matt versus Japan.
Yeah. Cool. And then yeah, if people want to find out more about you maybe about your community as well, what's the best way for them to get in touch with. So it's roamstack.com. So just think of roam research, and then stack. And I'm very active on Twitter.
And my Twitter handle is R R O U D T. So RR are my initials and my lastname. Yeah, and I basically just write about learning, learning how to learn and Try to leverage Twitter also to connect with other learners bring learners together, I love to be like a connector. And just ask questions where I can find more info about a specific skill if I want to learn a specific skill. So yeah, if you're into that, I definitely give a follow and say hi.
\Yeah. Great. All right. Thanks a lot Ramses for the interview..
Thank you. And well, I can talk about this for hours, so I thank you so much for having me on.
Yeah. Maybe, maybe we'll do another one time. I can talk about this very long as well.
Great. Open to it. Thank you.
All right. Thank you.
 
 

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