Learning to Learn – Finding Resources

How do you find Quality Learning Resources?  Quality Courses?  Do you want to learn, but find yourself sifting through the internet to find the best materials?  Here are some helpful tips.

I am on a mission of “Learning how to Learn”.  This is a work in progress, and is part of series, which will eventually more organized and turned into an independent learner’s “guidebook” or “course”. (hopefully!)

How to Find Resources

The focus of this is: How to Acquire Resources for your course.  While this step works best if you already know what you want to learn, it can still be helpful to those still searching.

 

Searching for Textbooks and University Courses

  • I have to start by mentioning: MIT Open Courseware, which in some cases might be the last step on your search for resources.  Professors release their materials from their course (often including video lectures), which you access online, or  download locally on your computer as a .zip file.  Highly recommended.
  • Another option, which I also find very insightful, is to Search for University Classes, as if you were signing up for a course (except for the fact that you probably aren’t enrolled!)  Major universities often allow anyone to search through their Course Catalogues, and specific information about the courses.  If you can find the Syllabus from a specific course, you can usually find the Textbook for that class and Learning Objectives/Goals.
  • The Open Education Consortium is a nonprofit “global network of educational institutions, individuals and organizations that support an approach to education based on openness, including collaboration, innovation and collective development and use of open educational materials.” You can search for open courses materials using the Open Education Consortium: Courses Search Engine.

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Google Search Tips and Tricks

  • While normally this is self-explanatory (you just google search the name and author of the textbook), there is one nice trick for Searching Filetypes.  Leave one space, and then type your search like normal.
filetype:pdf TextBook

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  • Another trick that can be essential for sifting through webpages is Searching by Website Domain.  For example, a common search is to only search the .edu domain, or to search a specific website.
site:.edu
site:wikipedia.org

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  • There are more special search tricks than just these two, and you can find search tips from Google: Refine Searches.
  • There is also the often-forgotten Google Advanced Search, which is extremely useful to sift through the internet.

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Deciding on a Textbook for a “Main Resource”

While it is not essential to have one “main resource”, it is often extremely beneficial. If you are taking a subject that often appears in universities or colleges, chances are there already exist plenty of well-structured resources

  • I highly recommend finding a Textbook that you connect well with.
  • Textbooks that are deigned for courses can be especially useful because many authors apply pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.)
    In other words, they are often organized, structured well, and designed for learning the subject in an appropriate level of depth.
  • Textbooks often have problem sets and concept checks.  These can be very effective because they allow you to “learn by doing” rather than just reading.

Deciding on a Textbook might also be challenging, which is why you should learn a bit about the author and the beginning material.

  1. Read the preface. On several occasions, I have decided upon a textbook because of the preface.  A few textbooks even explicitly answer the question “who is the book designed for?”
  2. Read the Table of Contents.  It will determine if the scope of the textbook is right for what you want to learn.

The preface, and/or pages at the beginning of a textbook, often have invaluable information about the book, that is often completely skipped over by students.  They occasionally contain “how this book is organized” or a description on “how to read this book”

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This is a flowchart for the “Procedures of how to read this set of books” from the Art of Computer Programming.  This is  a good example of the useful things you might find in the Preface of a well-structured textbook.

I have shown some examples below of good material in the beginning of books can help you decide upon a book, or help you while reading and learning from a book.

Example: Algorithms

I am currently in the process of learning about Algorithms.  Beyond simply programming, I wanted to learn the actual theory and mathematics behind the algorithms.  I have programmed already in a few languages (usually simple programs or games), but have not really studied the subject in full depth.

I found this textbook, and am using it as my “main resource” that structures my learning.  The way it is structured is perfect, and each section goes in-depth.  You can see the Table of Contents for Introduction to Algorithms on Wikipedia, for an example of how a well-structured textbook might look.

clrs3

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The Preface of Introduction to Algorithms includes the authors’ description of the text, and notes to the teacher, the student, and the professional about how the book is structured, and how to use it.

 

Example: Discrete Mathematics

In my case, I enjoy a lot of the mathematics behind computers, and I enjoy doing math problems.  The Textbook above has problems (and many of them have math), so I am using another textbook to satisfy the mathematician in me:

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Discrete Mathematics with Applications
by Susanna S. Epp.  is a fantastic book with a lot of great problems.  The problem sets are well-designed and teach you a lot while you solve them.  This is one my favorite textbooks of all time.
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The Preface of Discrete Mathematics with Applications.  Susanna S. Epp starts by writing her motivations to create the book.

 

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The Preface of Discrete Mathematics with Applications. Includes a note from the author the examples and exercises included in the book.
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