Making It Stick  (A Developers Implementation Plan)

How to use flashcards and coding to really retain concepts

During a holiday around Europe with plenty of downtime between destinations, I started churning through the e-book ‘Make it Stick’ by by Peter C. Brown,‎ Henry L. Roediger III and‎ Mark A. McDaniel. As a Java developer who feels they have a lot of catching up to do in the industry, I thought I needed better strategies for learning than the ones I have been taking.

With previous textbook readings I’ve done, I didn’t feel I was retaining the information I needed. More specifically, I was getting overall concepts from books but it only felt like I retained a tiny percentage of what I needed.

I’m a big believer in ‘learning by doing’, rather than just passively reading text, and this is borne out by several sources, including ‘Make it Stick’(1) and the much lauded ‘Learning how to Learn’ MOOC.(2)

Developing ‘experience’ yourself is what matters, not how many times you’ve read the text.

The problem was that the book itself didn’t give extensive implementation plans — quite intentionally as it didn’t want to be prescriptive. But where does that leave us struggling lifelong students of Software development?

I needed a way of proving whether this system could work before investing too much time in it, and I think I found a system that worked.

Simply put, to get the maximum value out of this you need to:

  • Identify subjects worthy of investment
  • Schedule time to practice and learn
  • Generate real experience
  • Maximise your RoI

Identify subjects worthy of investment

Its important to decide which subjects warrant this investment because that’s exactly what it is. You will definitely get through material slower if you take this approach but you will improve your recall, as I found.

During the experiment I made a decision to concentrate on learning some of the Core Java trails because I felt that you will always build on top of these fundamentals, and can re-use them in a variety of contexts.

Next, we’ll move into how you can set up a training routine around this.