W1. Personal Learning Experiences


Think about 3 learning experiences: a memory you recall from when you were learning something in (1) elementary or middle school; (2) high school or college; and (3) professional setting (first job, current career, etc.).  

  • What was the topic you were learning in elementary or middle school?
  • Who was teaching you this topic in elementary or middle school?
  • How did you learn the information?
  • What type of information/skill were you learning?
  • Why were you learning the information or skill?


While I was in high school, I read the book “Vật lý vui” – I think it is this one, not so sure – and was amazed by the information about how we can secure a string to a stick by just wrapping the string around it and do NOT need to tie a knot. The book even gives an example of sailors who just wrap the rope around a pole to anchor a heavy ship! At first, I didn’t believe, but then I try it on my own and it works! Until this day, I still use this trick whenever I can.

  • What topic: I was learning about Physics
  • Who: A great book
  • How: Self-Learning, and then self-reinforcement
  • What type; It is a piece of information that has practical usage
  • Why: Just for the fun of learning

When I come back to college after 10 years without formal study, I was so nervous because I have never ever written an academic essay before, certainly not in English. The thing which scares me the most is Citation – I hate tedious jobs, I hate the fact that for so many ideas that I accumulated over dozen of years in the workforce, I supposed to do research to see who thought about that first (?) and give him/her credits even though I learned about it from a totally different ways (?). I read the University guide (which recommend EndNote and even had an appointment with the Student Academic Success staff but still not convinced and still feeling frustrated. I recognized that I’m OK with the concept of citing, but I’m not OK with the huge efforts required to do it – which I consider unproductive. Then one day in the actual class, a professor, casually, as an “ah, btw”, show us the tool Zotero, and I loved it. The tool saved my sanity.

  • What topic: I was learning about the Citation manager tool Zotero
  • Who: Dr. Phil
  • How: See the demonstration, then practice
  • What type: It is a skill (of using a tool)
  • Why: It reduces the complexity of and effort required for a work I do not like to do

One day at work when I was a junior programmer, I got a request from a remote boss (HQ) to tweak the overall color mood of a huge mobile game. I took me a few hours to finally found the pieces of code which can help me to tweak the 3 color channels Red, Green, and Blue. I was a hard task for me as a newbie on 3D graphics, so I was really excited and even though it’s already late, I tweak the channel, press “Build”, wait for 15-20 minutes for the code to compile and the game to be packaged and pushed onto a mobile device and navigate to the exact scene and see the final color being produced. Well, the color didn’t turn out to be right, so I made another tweak, and repeat the process. After I already got into 2 hours of overtime and started to get annoyed by the blind tweak and huge waste of time waiting, my supervisor said: “Hey noob, why don’t you spend half an hour adding extra code so that when you press the Volume buttons on the phone, you can tweak a color channel as much as you like without the need of recompiling the game?”. I rejected the idea “That’s a lot of work that would be thrown away later! I’m very close to finishing now I think, I just need to change the red channel up a bit, just one more try!”

Of course, it didn’t work. Even after 3 more tries. Furthermore, what if I can get the numbers right, but then HQ dislike the final color tomorrow? I went home, sleep on it.

Next morning, I implemented what the supervisor said in 1 hour, send a build to Paris for HQ to play with the settings himself, pressing buttons like crazy to tweak the color to his satisfaction. It took him nearly an hour to do that – because colors is a very subjective thing. It’s just unimaginable how much effort would be wasted if I tweak parameters manually, making build, sending to Paris and receive feedback back. I took a complete change in mindset from that day.

  • What topic: I was learning about the mindset of effort investment, and doing things in the right way, not the obvious way
  • Who: Mr Namke
  • How: A wise recommendation delivered in a harsh way
  • What type: It is a mindset that I applied to everything later on
  • Why: I learned it by a full cycle of rejection, suffering, experimenting, and reaping benefits with a new way of work