Learn New Skills for Free: The Power of Forums
Learning a new skill is hard. Whether it’s becoming a better cook or trying to build your own computer, your success rate will improve if you have some help. (See also: 6 Ways to Get Paid to Learn)
That can be expensive — taking classes or hiring someone to help will cost you. But there’s an old-school kind of social media that can help. It isn't talked about very much since it isn’t Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare (ugh).
I’m talking about the good-ol' fashioned forum.
What’s a Forum?
A forum is simply a place where people gather to discuss a common topic. If you’re trying to learn it, I guarantee there’s a decent forum out there of like-minded people talking about everything from growing your own tomatoes to trimming your cat’s whiskers. (Forums are better suited for DIY-ish things like setting up a home theater, growing your own herbs, and around-the-house repairs. For things like learning a new language and perfecting a sport, you're probably better off taking classes.)
The reason forums are so helpful is because they’re filled with people that are knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. Some are like you — they’re there to learn new things. Others are more experienced and can share their tips on how they learned. Then you have the veterans. These people are subject-matter experts and pretty much know everything there is to know about the topic.
Some are even professionals.
You put a collection of experts and newbies together in one place and you end up with a few things:
Lots of Knowledge
Browsing forums is a great way to get learn the basics.
A Place to Ask Questions
Asking questions (and getting them answered in a timely manner) is probably the coolest part of participating in a forum. It’s like Twitter, but everyone here is focused on this one, narrow topic.
Sure, it’s just online, but if you hang out long enough and participate, these people will eventually become part of your network, which is always valuable.
How to Use a Forum to Learn New Things
My experience with forums has been great, as long as you follow a few rules:
Do Your Research
Don’t just join and start demanding questions because you want a quick fix. It will piss everyone off. Make sure you read any threads that are “pinned” to the top of a forum and search (you may have to register for this) thoroughly for your question, since it’s probably been answered already.
Learn the Language
Know the words people use relative to the topic. If I went into a computer-building forum and asked how I can install the video thingy, people would dismiss me right away. Learn the vocab — it’ll make the communication smoother. You should be able to pick all this up in the forum during the research phase — just make sure you get it before you start posting!
Say Please and Thank You
You should do this everywhere in life, but especially in forums. People are being generous with their time and their knowledge, so thank them accordingly. It goes a long way.
I’ve had great experiences with forums. Anandtech helped me figure out the hardware for my last desktop. XDA Developers guided me through the process of rooting my phone. And the Build Your Own PVR forum has given me a wealth of information about how to build my own personal video recorder.
Could I have figured all this out by researching the web? Sure, but there’s nothing like several informed voices helping you out instead of just reading what one person thinks on a website. I highly recommend you try it out.