You’ve probably heard/read the age-old advice to writers: write about what you know. Not to be contrarian, but there are ways to write about what you don’t know – or at least don’t know very well – and it’s a good way to learn a topic better.
Back when I was a teaching assistant in college, I found that when I taught various programming concepts, I was forced to understand them better. In a similar vein, when it comes to blogging, I find that writing tutorials helps me understand something better – especially if I do screencasts where I have to provide the narration. If you want to do the same, here’s a suggested process:
- Start with podcasting and transition your skills to screencasting or web video.
- Get free screencasting software such as Camstudio or Debut. When you have the budget, upgrade to TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio. (All of these only run on Windows, and there’s no free video screen capture tool for Mac that I’m aware of. Colleagues have found a few low-end Mac screen recording programs, but none seem as sophisticated as Camtasia Studio. Warning: I had technical problems using Debut. It hijacked my TV capture card as well as my sound. And the screen capture mode created one of those “infinite mirrors” types of screen recording of the visible windows.)
- Read whatever you can about the software you want to do a screencast about, as well as get familiar with the features.
- Choose a few features to write about and distill your knowledge into a tutorial article.
- Supplement the article wth screensnaps.
- If you can explain better with a screencast of you using some of the features, then add that to the article as well.
Once I’ve done a few screencasts/ tutorials about a subject/piece of software, I find that my understanding is much deeper. I’m only guessing but I think that part of the reason is because having to write/ teach/ screencast gives you a tangible goal of what you have to learn.
Of course, it’s easier to do tutorials and screencasts when you’re working with software. What do you if a tutorial or screencast isn’t suitable? How do you learn new topics then? That’s my question to you. Got any tips or links to articles you’ve written about learning and knowledge? Feel free to drop them off here.