Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Learning new things

For today's Resource Wednesday, I thought it'd be neat to look at some of the ways the 'Net brings us great new ways to learn. (I plan to dig into some of these in more detail later, so consider this a taste...)

Passionate people, briefly being brilliant:
One of my favorite ways to learn about totally new-to-me topics has become the TED talks. TED started as a series of annual conferences (focused on Technology, Education, and Design), bringing in some of the top experts in the world to give brief (10-20 minute) speeches about the things they know best. They now film them, and make them available (900+ and counting) for free online, and a number of offshoot events have also developed.

I find them fascinating not just for the content (which covers a huge range of fields) but also for what I can learn about making a powerful, fascinating presentation. In some future week, I'll post some of my favorites, but in the meantime, browse away from their list.

Crowd-sourced wisdom:
All right, we all know that just Googling it doesn't work for some kinds of questions, right? (That's a big part of why we in the library are here, after all - there's a lot of academic questions where that's the case, of course.)

But what happens when you want to know something complicated - how to move across country with an odd combination of pets? What's a great free online tool to solve a particular problem? What foods could you make that would take you through a long day of classes and work, without needing a fridge or a microwave?

Enter AskMetafilter. Part of a much larger site (Metafilter itself is focused on discussion of links and online material, the idea being that the cool stuff rises to the top), AskMetafilter is focused on questions and answers. It's been my first stop for several years for general questions where I want well-focused answers to a particular practical issue or interest.

How does it work? You can browse the site all you like for free (you'll see some ads). If you'd like to post a question or respond, you'll need to pay a $5 user registration fee. It's one time (not a subscription), and it helps both support the site, and keep a handle on spamming and other problematic behavior. (It's a method that's unusual in online sites, but works really well for them.)

And a few other notes: the content on the site is widely varying: you may find things that are not to your taste. Discussions do have moderation to keep them within site guidelines, but of course, moderators may not have spotted a problem comment yet. Their FAQ has lots of answers to questions you might have about how the site works. And of course, use your head, and evaluate the information you get from this source, just like you would any other.

Learn something new:
One of my goals for a while has been to learn a little more about programming. (I took a class in college, but that was both a long time ago, and didn't get used again - so it's fallen out of my brain.) I'd started playing with a site called Code Academy, and in January, they started a project called Code Year, where you do a series of short lessons (new ones every week) that take you through a lot of coding basics.

I'm still on week two, but I'm learning a lot. (If you've never done any kind of programming or coding before, the learning curve is a little steep, but they've got forums and other help information - and there's a lot of people doing it, so there are little communities growing up to share ideas and resources.)

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