The Difference Between Learning and Doing

Blog Summary: (AI Summaries by Summarizes)
  • There are several types of learning videos: hype, low effort, novice, and professional.
  • It is important to avoid hype, low-effort, and novice channels when learning from data engineering content.
  • Hype content can be misleading and lead to financial losses in options trading.
  • Low information density in videos can hinder learning.
  • YouTube's algorithm favors quantity over quality, leading to a proliferation of low-effort content.

Lately, I’ve been learning how to trade options. Although there’s data and programming involved in options trading, it isn’t as technical as data engineering or software engineering. However, it reflects the current state of learning, whether that’s data engineering or options trading. It gave me a look into learning a skill using videos. Each lesson I learned will directly apply to your learning or skill improvement.

As you look at the landscape, there are several different types of learning videos:

  • Hype – These have virtually no substance. In options, these are get-rich-quick videos. Hype gets views, and maybe next time, you’ll learn something.
  • Low Effort – These are slightly more substance but have significant filler. The message could have been said in one minute or less, but YouTube’s algorithm wants ten-minute videos. Lots of time was spent rehashing simple concepts and asking for likes and subscribes.
  • Novice – These are done by someone who is just starting out their journey or knows slightly more than you. They may have a few years of experience, but that still isn’t enough.
  • Professional – This is someone with ample professional experience and is sharing it. The videos are highly educative and lack filler.

Obviously, watching hype, low-effort, and novice videos will get you nowhere. The worst part is watching the entire video to see that it was useless. As I watched these videos, I started to see the pattern and could stop watching them. It was a clickbait title and image. I eventually settled on watching two channels as their content was consistently high quality. If you looked at the number of views, their channel wasn’t the most viewed (they’re still popular).

As you start to learn from data engineering content, stay away from the hype, low-effort, and novice channels.
As you start to learn from data engineering content, stay away from the hype, low-effort, and novice channels. They just don’t know enough about the subject and often tell you the wrong thing. They often lack enough experience to suggest and follow the herd in their “opinions” (read: regurgitating other’s ideas that are dumbed down).

Does hype content help or hurt? People watch, lose money, and stop because they don’t understand and follow the hype. In options trading, you’re losing real money. Hype videos sell a dumbed-down version of reality that makes things look easy. People who follow the data engineering hype channels think it’s easy: learn a little, do interviews, fail, and stop trying. These people will spend their time and money in a vain attempt to get a job or learn a new technology. These people don’t get jobs. I know because I interview the people who’ve watched the hype train and think they can easily pass an interview with some rudimentary faking it or that beginner knowledge is enough. The hype video told them to do it, and they are learning the hard way it doesn’t work.

Low information density is a killer when learning. Low information density means how much new information you’ll learn in a video. Some videos will be low on purpose. They want you to buy their course or take their class. The fun part is that paid material isn’t much better, either. They’re not a professional and don’t understand the subject or have no idea how to teach.

The quality problem becomes more of an issue because of YouTube’s algorithm. It wants new videos. If you aren’t creating something weekly, you don’t maintain the same ranking and promotion. It puts creators into a quantity over quality spiral. They run out of ideas or experience to talk about. They start to “borrow” others’ ideas, most of the time without attribution. The copies are poorly executed as the person doesn’t understand the material.

Creating great content takes a long time, and making low effort takes no time. It’s a big part of why you see so much low-effort content. For my videos, a ratio of between 20 and 5 hours of behind-the-scenes work for every hour of content. It ensures the idea is clear and the presentation makes sense.

I was surprised by the lack of innovation in the teaching methods. Every channel sought to teach the same concepts the same way another channel did it or how they learned it originally. In options trading, I would have swapped some concepts and changed how some concepts were taught.

The faster people can understand concepts, the sooner they’re productive. The better people understand the idea, the faster they can learn the next concept.
The faster people can understand concepts, the sooner they’re productive. The better people understand the idea, the faster they can learn the next concept.

In my teaching, I’m known for using Legos and playing cards to teach some difficult distributed systems concepts. There’s even a peer-reviewed, published article showing how much faster, better, and more profound understanding than traditional methods. Coming up with unique and different ways of teaching these concepts isn’t easy. Creating a Lego demo that lasts 15 minutes can take weeks of planning. Pablo Picasso said it best: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” It takes a lifetime of experience to teach well.

The idea for this post came as I thought about the marked difference between an amateur and a professional. Seeing the difference in content between the two drove home something for me. I hadn’t spent this much time learning a new technical skill in a while. The methodologies and strategies the novices taught were basic and were missing fundamental ideas. The professionals already knew the fundamentals, taught them, and showed true mastery of the subject.

If you’re learning from novices, you will inherit the same issues: every misunderstanding, every hole in their knowledge, every stupid decision.

If you’re learning from novices, you will inherit the same issues: every misunderstanding, every hole in their knowledge, every stupid decision. You will inherit each of these as the person can only teach to their level, and that level could be just a hair’s breadth above yours. This poor inheritance includes their biases due to a lack of experience. They’ll be under the misguided understanding that all of their experience is representative of the rest of the world, and that isn’t the case.

An example would be a simple trade. The novice presented it with little context or alluding to more advanced trade handling. The professional knew far more about the trade and gave more advanced hints about executing it. The professional had the breadth of knowledge and, more importantly, experience to break down the advanced topics. An instructor or content creator with limited or theoretical knowledge about a topic is virtually useless. Some lessons can only be taught in the real world. The professional talks about backtesting (a test over historical data of an options strategy) to verify you understand the risk, and the novice doesn’t even know about the existence or necessity of backtesting.

Suggestions:

  • Be clear about your objective. Is it for idle or passive learning? Are you trying to get a job or complete a project? The two levels of learning are completely different, yet most treat them the same.
  • Avoid spending time on content where you aren’t learning something each minute.
  • Identify the real professionals and follow their advice and teaching.
  • Be careful of the fake professionals, as their advice is more detrimental.
  • Don’t just try to learn everything for free. The best content takes time to create, and you’ll need to pay for it.
  • You can only learn by doing. If you’re sitting and watching a video for the 10th time about a topic, Stop consuming and start doing.  Fail at it and learn from the failures.
  • If you’re stuck at the novice level, chances are you’re learning from the wrong sources or may need to change tactics (different explanations, more practices, etc).
  • Value your time. Time spent, or wasted, isn’t free. You could have spent that time on effective learning, hobbies, or with your family.
  • While it applies to YouTube, it applies to all sorts of content, such as LinkedIn or MOOCs.

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