Continuous Learning about Learning

I spent time in 2020 focussing on learning teaching skills. I knew that I already taught people both at work and in the testing community, but I was also acutely aware that there’s an entire industry of trained pedagogues out there, with actual proper skills that I didn’t have, and I could certainly learn to improve. There’s probably another post in what I learned, but lately I’m trying to focus on being more aware of my learning.

I’ve always been aware that I’m a learner. I like non-fiction, I like museums, I like holidays that have interesting day trips to see something. But that’s unstructured, and largely for fun. I probably shouldn’t approach my professional learning that way, right? I needed to be better. I wanted to learn the things that I wanted to learn, not just whatever links popped up in Slack that day. I wanted to learn the things that my company needed me to good at next, not just learning as I went in order to survive the day.

As part of learning about teaching last year, I was recording what everyone was teaching each other in the weekly sessions we’d set up for sharing. Looking back over that I realised that for the large part, I also had a pretty good record of what I was learning within that space.

I started by extending this, and being more cognisant of what I was learning (see my 3 things posts, for example). Once I knew what I was learning, I was better able to look at the gaps, and know the things that I wouldn’t learn accidentally or incidentally. I was able to think about the things I wanted to know more about, and have conversations with my boss and my colleagues about the things that might be useful to know in the future.

The next step was to plan my learning. I don’t mean a lesson plan or anything so formal. What I wanted to do was:

  • to capture the stuff I would learn, to set myself high-level goals and make myself accountable to them
  • have ways capture as I went the things that I encountered that I might like to learn

To begin, I revisited something I used in a previous company, the Brickceptional Opportunity Board. I’d used this to plan against individual OKRs, and advertise it to my team as something they could do. This served two purposes: to capture the very high-level stuff, like topics and conferences, but was a also a format that worked well for Confluence, so holds me accountable to everyone I work with. A current example: “Relearn Java, starting with the Intro to Java from Automation In Testing”.

Next, I made use of my whiteboard. Reasonable sized chunks of learning (a few hours) that pop up in day-to-day work go onto an area of the whiteboard. A current example is “Learn about how XMPP clients work by opening 1 pull request on Spark” (although of course, the actual scrawl on my whiteboard isn’t so long-form, or so legible, but what matters is that I know what it means). These get triaged more regularly. Stuff gets completed more regularly, but stuff also becomes stale or irrelevant more quickly as either my project changes or my interest in a topic wanes.

For shorter stuff, I often use (hold your gasps) open tabs (I often run well over 50 tabs). A current example is NCSC’s Zero Trust Architecture Principles. It’s only 30-60 minutes work to get some value from, so will likely happen some time this week. Like many people, I also have post-its for general stuff to remember (like remember to post interesting )

For stuff I get sent to my phone, or that I spot on my phone when browsing around, I have a system that I hate. I forward the link to my gmail with an extra tag i.e. fishbowler+learning in the address, and file them all into a folder for later. Alternatively, I share them to Telegram’s Saved Messages group. In both cases, most things go there to die, and never make it to a proper list or ever get visited, unless I remember that it exists and actively seek it out.

For stuff that comes up in meetings, where someone mentions a subject that I’d love to know more about (e.g. Cybersecurity Situational Awareness), it gets a star next to it on my notes. I use a Rocketbook Fusion for all of my notes, which means that almost everything gets erased from the book pretty regularly, meaning that anything with a star, if I haven’t already done the research, either happens right now, or gets added to a list, or gets discarded.


  • I’m always prepared to choose something to learn when I’ve got time, be it 30 mins, a few hours, or a week.
  • I’m always prepared for a conversation with my boss or my team about what I’m learning now, planning to learn next, or what I should be learning next.