How I learn

Everyone learns differently. As a result, there is no universal “best way” to learn about new topics, despite what click-baity headlines may tell you. In this blog, I write about topics in the way that worked best for me when I was first learning about them. I would characterize the way I start to learn about a new topic as “simplifying the big picture”. I have illustrated this approach below.

How I learn.

To summarize, I learn about a simplified version of the problem and slowly remove the simplifications until I get back to the original problem. This may seem like an obvious approach, but in my experience many learners (and teachers) fail for the following reasons:

Now for an example. Let’s say you are interested in simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), and you want to use a robot to build a cool 3D map like the one below (image courtesy of the OctoMap library).

3D map

Now suppose you have no experience in mapping with a robot. If you really want to understand how it works (and not just download software and use it without any understanding), you need to start small. If I were teaching someone from scratch, I would start with something like this:

Simplified SLAM

The key components are still there. A robot drives through an environment and measures objects in that environment with a sensor. After understanding that, I would remove some simplications and learn how to handle something like this:

Less simplified SLAM

I have shifted things from 1D into 2D. The sensor used by the robot gets more complex (in this case, it is a laser scanner), and there are many more objects.

So by now you might be asking, “but how do I know what are reasonable simplifications to make when I don’t understand the topic?”. That’s a great question, and is one of the things I am trying to address in this blog. I am trying to help first-time learners understand the big picture of how different topics work by laying out the path of simplified problems. I hope this approach works for you.