Learning in the Age of Tutorial

Lately I have been thinking a lot about learning in the age of the tutorial and how it compares to actually learning a craft.

When I look around me, it seems like most digital natives excel at the former and have at least some trouble with the latter.

I know I do.

Two years ago I found myself in a position where a profound technical understanding of modern web development was greatly beneficial, if not necessary.

My knowledge was extremely outdated.

So in a about half a year I learned to use CSS3 and HTML5, SCSS, Media Queries and designing for mobile, how to quickly create wireframes for prototyping, the power of Git and the command line, etc. Even some basic Ruby on Rails stuff.

In the year that followed, however, I hardly expanded on my new-found knowledge and skills. If anything, I lost my chops.

So how was I able to acquire these skills in a short time? And why did I have so much trouble pushing the envelope after that?

I think it's because we are becoming problem-driven learners.

It may have something to do with the fact that we have become so much better at asking the right questions to solve our problems. A trained human + google equals an extremely efficient problem solving machine. Sometimes it seems like for every little problem, there is an amazing free tutorial out there.

This is great - following a tutorial is an awesome way of learning something. For me personally, the fact that I can immediately apply what I learned speeds up the learning process and benefits retention.

The downside is - at least for me, that knowledge in the age of the tutorial is not even domain specific. It's problem specific.

I've regularly surprised colleagues with half-guessed solutions for complicated software issues that reveal both a general cluelessness about computer science and some weirdly specific knowledge on a fringe subject.

But what if you actually want to learn a craft?

What if I do want to learn about computer science? Or become an actual cook, instead of emulating Jaimie Oliver one recipe at a time?

Of course you could try to discipline yourself into learning a craft. Follow some courses online, sign up for late night classes...

Or you can just do what I did: Make it your problem.


I'm a 29-year old concept developer, product manager and wannabe designer. My favorite colors are green and gray. I love buying and playing records and music gear, starting bands, and word-play.