Saturday, June 1, 2013

How I Study: A cloud-enabled strategy to gain understanding

As a wireless engineer, I try really hard to embrace Mobility.  Even in my studies, Mobility is something I focus on.  I felt it was time to describe my self-learning process of study after showing some engineers at work some of the ways I use mobility to enhance my study process.  The problem with learning is that you need to do things to reinforce what you are learning.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." -Confucius

The point of studying and taking certs is to raise your understanding in a particular technology set.  Since this is self study, you can replace "hear" with "read."  Remembering is not the goal, but an understanding of the technology and how it fits into networking as a whole.  Adding mobility to this really stretches most study methods.

Cloud Strategy for Reading: Dropbox, Safari Books

When buying books, make sure you invest in ebooks.  They are easier to take with you in a cloud-enabled mobile world.  If you must buy physical books, buy books from the Mfg so you can take advantage of bundled savings of Book + ebook. or are some good choices. is a great option for renting books.  They keep a large inventory online and you can keep 5 on your bookshelf for $9.99/month and they have a great iPhone/iPad application for viewing them.  I've been very happy with their service and have been a member since it opened in 2001.

Use a cloud storage service like Dropbox, Amazon, Google Drive or Skydrive to store your eBooks and access them from anywhere.  Most have a FREE option that will be sufficient for your studies.  I utilize DropBox to store all of my Books, Deployment Guides, Config Examples etc and get in under the free 2GB limit.  I star almost all of these documents to keep offline copies on my iPad for times when I don't have 4G or Wi-Fi available.

The other thing is to find a good eBook reader for your mobile device.  My favorite is GoodReader for iPad and it's only $5.

Cloud Strategy for Note Taking:  Evernote, OneNote

First of all, TAKE NOTES! One of the ways I remember things is by taking notes and reviewing them periodically.  My preference is Evernote since it is a purely cloud-based service and has good native applications on most platforms.  On my desktop I have my reading material open on one monitor, and Evernote on the other.  Onenote coupled with Skydrive can be just as effective.  I upgraded to Evernote Premium for the offline access to my notes, but they have a free option as well.

Most decent ebook readers all you to annotate, highlight and other note-taking features. Some people have trouble letting go of physical books and these features make them feel more at home.   I prefer typing it into evernote.

Once you've taken notes, I periodically take a study night to go back through a couple weeks of notes and review before moving on.  This is where I find the OneNote/Evernote options more appealing, as I don't have to read the whole book/chapter again.  Also, if you're taking good notes it should highlight the things you should remember like key points, things to memorize, etc.  Evernote has good search functionality, tagging and I can quickly find different notes referencing a technology by searching.

One thing I've taken to recently is grabbing the exam blueprint and taking the notes for the relevant section and filling it in under the section headers in the blueprint.  Let's me know what I still need to go read and study before scheduling the exam again.

Cloud Strategy for Labbing: LogMeIn

Just like taking notes, BUILD A LAB.  If you don't do it, understanding will be something you struggle with. I have a pretty advanced lab at home, complete with a VMWare ESXI server, routers, switches, WLCs, APs, terminal server. Taking some of these concepts and labbing them up will help you take the intellectual knowledge of what you are learning and help give you that practical experience that builds understanding.

I have LogMeIn installed on a Windows 7 VM that I can access my home lab from anywhere.  It has all my tools needed for labbing remotely.  It gives me the ability to setup and perform all the Fastlane labs remotely.

Cloud Strategy:  Study Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device

Most of you have heard about being able to work like this.  I have all of these apps installed on my iPhone, iPad, GalaxyTab 10, DroidX, Desktop and Laptop.  You may see me in an airport reading on my phone, or taking notes on my iPad.  My dentist knows that I'm studying while waiting for the novacain to kick in.

Final Thoughts

IPExpert's own Marko Milivojevic gave me some great advice a few weeks ago. Start Small.  Even just 30 minutes at a time of study will add up.  These strategies enables me to study between meetings, even on the go.  Every device I own gives me access to my library, notes and lab material to sneak those small study sessions, and they do add up.

Also thanks to Sam Clements for giving me the kick in the ass to get more blog content going.