The benefits of public learning and how to start

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In a Snapshot Friday issue, about two weeks ago, I questioned the idea of learning in public. I came to the consensus that the value of public learning is the perceived accountability it provides. If you are looking to learn in public and provide value to an audience, I think it's a lot less valuable. After all, it's hard to make sense of rough thoughts and notes. However, the topic of learning in public deserves elaboration.

You can read that week's issue here.

Why should anyone learn in public?

While I am sure there are many reasons to learn in public, I believe that there are only two compelling reasons for anyone to do so: to have public accountability and to provide public proof of their work.

Public Accountability

I touched on this reason in the newsletter, but I believe the most valuable aspect of public learning is that it gives you accountability. Turning something you have created public-facing encourages you to maintain and refine it, providing the incentive that private work simply does not offer.

Even if you lack an audience or only have a few readers/viewers, making your work public evokes a different feeling. I find that it makes you more aware of your work's quality because the public eye means that you are potentially judged for the work you produce.

However this feature can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you are more consistent with your work due to public accountability. On the other hand, the thought of being judged publicly is quite scary. Impostor syndrome and perfectionism stem from this fear of being judged, even if there are most likely very few or no viewers for your work (as you are just starting out).

That is why much advice around creating content online focuses on "publish first, edit later." Most people struggle with the initial fear of publishing and overcoming that helps get people started. I remember when I first started blogging, I didn't want my family to know and even now I don't notify them every time I post something new.

Proof of Work

The other reason that learning in public is useful is the creation of a public proof of work. Depending on what you do in public (writing a blog or an online web app), you can create a body of work that you can use as a reference for anything in life. This could be for a job application, helping others, or even speeding up your own work.

How do you learn in public?

With all that being said, how do you actually learn in public? There are many ways, ranging from as simple as blogging online to more elaborate methods like hosting webinars or book clubs.

I think the easiest way to get started with public learning is to create a digital garden.

Creating a Digital Garden

A digital garden might be the easiest way to start learning in public. It's a cross between a notebook and a blog that sits on the internet.

The idea is straightforward: any notes that you take are made public on the internet. This sounds scary but knowing that most people won't find it helps sooth my fears sometimes. The most compelling idea about a digital garden is that it encourages you to add and refine your notes, which in turn is doing the same for your thoughts and opinions.

There are plenty of resources out there that can help you set one up, ranging from all-in-one solutions to more customized ones. Here are a few that I have found useful:

and if you are interested in reading more about digital gardens, check these articles out.

I have a garden too, but it's still pretty new. You can find it here if you are curious.

Final Thoughts

Learning in public can be a powerful tool for personal growth and development. It offers the benefits of public accountability, and you now have a public proof of work that you can use in many aspects of life. By creating content and sharing it with the world, we can refine our thoughts, learn to communicate more effectively, and build a better understanding of our interests and goals.

Whether through a digital garden, a blog, or other means, there are many ways to start learning in public and reaping the benefits of this practice. So, if you have been afraid of posting content online, I hope this article helps ease some of that fear and gets you to publish your own thought and notes.

Thanks for reading.