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More than just taking notes – Learning exhaust

Exploring New Concepts with Nicole Vanderhoeven: How She Learns and Applies Ideas to Her Interests

  • Nicole Vanderhoeven explains the process she takes when trying to learn a new skill or understand a new idea
  • She reads a book, takes notes, and creates learning exhaust (notes, posts, videos, writing) which are publicly available on her Obsidian vault
  • She read Emergence by Steven Johnson twice and took notes from her Kindle and Kindle Scribe
  • She created an overall summary of the book’s arguments, weaknesses of his arguments in her own words
  • Applied the concept to two fields she is interested in – note-taking and load testing.

Student Shares Process of Researching and Applying Notes to Multiple Fields

  • A student explains his process of researching and taking notes on a book
  • He shares his notes on Mastodon for others to follow along with
  • He then creates an abstracted note to apply to other fields, as well as an applied note on emergent load testing
  • The student also created slides based off of their notes.

Vanderhoevens Emergent Note-Taking System Shines at KubeCon EU

  • Nicole Vanderhoeven has developed a note-taking system using Obsidian Publish
  • She created practical notes based on existing information and rearranged topics into a less verbose structure, adding images and styles
  • She then published the slides online which she shared publicly to receive feedback, which she used to adjust the presentation before delivering it at KubeCon EU
  • Vanderhoeven also wrote about Zettelkasten and Napkin in relation to Emergent note-taking, making use of learning in public
  • She publishes a changelog of her 300 most recently modified notes.

Speaker Passions Lead to Productive Note-Taking Process

  • The speaker is filtering source materials to take notes
  • He created a plugin, Vault Changelog, and forked it to add excluded paths
  • His process of note-taking took five months
  • The time consuming task was not tedious, as the speaker was driven by passion and curiosity rather than obligation
  • He shared how he takes notes on online courses in Obsidian.

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- When people ask me howthey can take better notes,I can't help but thinkthat they're focusing on the wrong thing.I take a lot of notes and I enjoy it,but the notes aren't the point.The learning is.I think of notes as learning exhaustnecessary byproducts ofme acquiring a new skillor understanding a new idea.Notes chronicle the path thatI take while I'm learningeven if that involves a few detours.In this video, I'm gonnashow you a real-life exampleof how I went from reading a book,Emergence by Steven Johnsonto taking notes on itand then finally to understandingit enough to apply itto my own interests all thewhile creating learning exhaust.Last November, I attendedthe very first cohortof the visual thinkingworkshop that was runby my friend Zsolt Viczián.Zsolt is the developer ofthe Obsidian Excalidrawand ExcaliBrain pluginsand he's very much intothe whole visual PKM space.That's not something thatcomes naturally to me.I don't really think visually like that,I think more verbally.And so, I thought that it wasa really interesting exerciseand in that workshop everybodychooses a book together.And in my cohort it was Emergence.I read Emergenceand I was immediatelycaptivated by that idea.And I also immediately knew thatif I didn't impose somesort of responsibilityor obligation for me inthe future regarding it.I knew that I wasn'tgoing to be able to diginto it the way that I really wanted to.So, after the cohort,I actually applied to talk ata conference about Emergenceand I was kind of skippingahead a little bit.I wanted to talk aboutEmergent load testing.That's the field that I'm in for work.So, that was just a little bitof extra motivation for meto carry me down this path.So, here's the paththat I ended up taking.So, I actually endedup reading the booktwice, once in Novemberand then once again in February.I wanted to re-read some sectionsthat I didn't remember very clearlyand I hadn't yet processed thenotes from the year before.You know how it goes.So, I actually have two different pagesfor highlights for it.One is just a normal highlights.They went into Readwisewhich is how I normally process thingsbecause Readwise connectsto my Amazon Kindle accountand then just brings in thethings that I've highlighted.So, I have one note for that.And then sometime late lastyear I also got a Kindle Scribewhich is the latestKindle that Amazon sells.The Kindle Scribe has the abilityto let you hand-writenotes, not in the margins,but kind of like in post-itnotes and also draw.And because I had just takenthis visual thinking workshop,I did kind of let myselfdoodle a little bit morethan I normally would've.Unfortunately, there is no wayto send those anywhere really.You have to email the PDF to yourselves,you can't send it to Readwise.So, then I have a PDF inObsidian that also has my notesfrom the Kindle with my doodles.And then based on thosetwo things I createdlike an overall book note,which is a summary of the book,the author's points ofview, his main arguments,the weaknesses of his arguments.From there, I created anabstract note and the pointof this note was not to rehashwhat the author had said.The point of the note is toexpress things in my own wordsand also to start to piecetogether what it might meanthis idea in comparisonto other ideas thatalready exist in my notes.And then I created twodifferent applied notes.So, I applied itto two different fieldsthat I'm interested in.One is note-taking andone is load testing.And I thought about what it might meanfor load testing and fornote-taking to be Emergent.So, this is a very typical flowof how I learned something thatI wanted to really dig into.This idea of understanding thecontext that the author setsand then abstracting what I can outof it and then reapplyingit to different contextsbecause I find that if Idon't do the application part,then it's not reallygonna be relevant for me.In every single part of this process,I created learning exhaust.For starters, all of thesenotes are publicly availableon my Obsidian vault.That's notes.nicolevanderhoeven.comif you wanna check it out.And I also did kind ofancillary things like postson Mastodon and videos andwriting and stuff like that.Let me show you that now.So, here's what my highlights looked like.These are the ones thatwent directly from Readwiseand into Obsidian.I was taking notes on the different partsand this was just as I was reading,I was going through itand just on my Kindleactually highlighting itwith my finger.And then the other thing wasmy notes on the Kindle Scribe.So, this is what it looks like.This is a PDF though becauseas I said, it doesn't gointo Readwise, it's not Markdown.So, there are still somehighlights where it's just text.But every now and then Ialso have like some doodlesas I was trying to understand an idea.This was kind of cool.'Cause usually I wouldtry to visualize an idealater after I've understood it.This was the first timethat I was able to thinkabout how to visualize somethingbefore I'd even finish the book.And that's something thatthis Kindle Scribe is actuallyreally good for.So, here are some other doodlesand also just some handwritten notesbecause it's kind of nice to do thingsin a more analog way as well.The unfortunate thingis that this is a PDFso there's no way to likejust take this picture.So, I took screenshots of itbecause I wanted to bringthem over into the next stage.I'll be honest thoughat this stage I hadn'treally processed anythingand this is why it was so goodthat I had done that thing previouslywhere I applied to speak at a conferencebecause it really restarteda lot of my passion for it.And because I knew that Iwas going to have to do iteventually, I went back to it.So 'cause around this stage,I was accepted into that conference.This is my Mastodon post sayingthat it had been accepted.And so you know, now I had a date.So, then I went backto actually, you know,processing the notes.So, this is my book note forEmergence and it's quite longbecause this is everythingthat I thought was usefulfrom what the author said, butthis is already in my words.So, the first part waslike highlights and stuff,but this is like my handwrittennotes and my doodles.I didn't take all of them but I took a lotof them and I generallyfollowed this thesis,antithesis and synthesis kind of format.By the way,this is a template that isavailable to my Patreon.In the thesis part I talkedabout the main pointsthat Steven Johnson hit.So, like criteria forEmergence, I identifiedthat these were thosethings that he felt werelikely to facilitate Emergence.And then some other ideas,like the bottom up approachbeing linked to swarm logic.And he did actually talkabout Emergent softwarewhich I found particularly interesting.Also in thesis I talkedabout similar ideas.So, this was not strictly speaking thingsthat he had mentioned.I did just want to link itto some things that I wasalready interested in and look,there's Napkin there as welland artificial intelligence,things that I knew I already had notes on.And then I have this antithesissection where I talkedabout kind of theweaknesses of his argumentsand the things that Iwas already picking apartas maybe not having beenfleshed out very much.So, they're things like, you know,Emergence is just chaosthat's been given enough timeor like that it takes toomuch time to be usefulor unpredictable, toounpredictable to be useful.And then I thoughtabout how I could kindof reconcile the thesisand antithesis portions in the synthesis.So, I thought about, you know,what situations Emergence mightbe better than the oppositewhich I thought should be somethinglike a reductionist hierarchy.So, this is me trying to figureout what the author meant in my mindand already the beginningsof trying to incorporate itinto my head and into my knowledge base.And then of course that daythat I first wrote that noteor you know, the first draftof it, I posted it on Mastodonso that I could also put itout there for other people.I really love letting peopleinto my learning process like this.So, this is a link to my Obsidian publishwhich just links to the same notethat I just showed youjust in a public format.So, now for the abstracted note,this is my note on emergence,but emergence as it meansto me, this isn't so muchabout summarizing whatSteven Johnson said.This is just me trying to remove itfrom the context a little bitbecause it was a lot aboutevolution and biology and stuff.And so, I wanted to kindof pull back somethingthat I would be able to apply later on.So, what I did endup taking were the factorsthat facilitate Emergenceand I kind of made them alittle bit more general hereand added some of my own.Like, he didn't really talk about agency,he didn't really use the word agency,but I put that in anyway.He definitely didn't sayfederated communication,but this is me expressing itin language that I already use.And then I thought the questionof when Emergence is the bestoption is also useful for me.Now this was a lot longer,but I also just decided tolike separate these out.So, I have this note on the disadvantagesof emergence becausethere was enough therethat I wanted to separate it out.And then I also created thisnote emergence in other fields.So, I was thinking of like howto apply it and which fieldsthat I wanted to actually talkabout it in the context of.So, I decided it was Emergence in techso I created a note onEmergent software as well.And you'll see it kindof spiders out, right?Like this is the problemthat there are so manyand I identified some thatI haven't even delved into.And even things like Emergence in Play,play being something thatencourages emergent behaviorsor seniors the fact that learningin public really facilitates a typeof emergence that occurswithin a community.So yeah, as you can see I'm still excitedabout those things, butI had to stop somewhere.I then took to Mastodon againand showed off that very note.And also in particular thesection where I had someof the learning exhaustso people could followalong like where I was in the process.And after I shared this,I then added, you know,the things that came afterwards.At this point I had alreadystarted to create my slides,but they weren't fully formed yet.As for the applied note,I already showed you oneon Emergent software.I was actually just going to talkabout the software ingeneral at that level.But then I thought that that was too broadbecause I would've wanted to talkabout AI a little bit more.The whole decentralizationand federation thing,I'm very big into mass on these daysso that could have been anarea of interest for me.But I decided to focuson Emergent load testingand so then I created this applied noteon what exactly that means.This isn't the slidesyet for my presentation,but this is still justa note and you'll seethat I took a lot of thisand put it into my slides.In general, I talkedabout like the historyof how testing and howcode might be shiftingor could shift from differenttypes of code imperativedeclarative and maybe generative.Then I talked about, you know,the range for generative load testingwhich I think are theaffordances of an application.So, you can see that I'malso bringing in ideasfrom some other notes, but I'mtrying not to talk too muchabout those in this videobecause I want to trace howthis Emergence idea wentthrough my entire vault systemand the stuff that I created from it.So, then I updated that noteand I started to create a presentationand this is what that lookslike in my Obsidian Publish,but it wasn't like thiswhen I first started.At first it was justlike a bunch of reallyrough topics and sections.So, actually what I didwas something like this.I just want to show youif I have a new note here,I started it off and Iwould actually embed someof the things from my existing notes.So, I would say, forexample, this is Emergenceand I wanted to bring in asystem of organized complexity.So, I'd bring that in andthen I would have thatas one slide and I wouldjust do the three ticksand then I would do another section.And then I kind of just built itout like this and it was super rough.It was already embedding sectionsfrom notes that I already had.So, that's the cool partwhen you follow this process,you're not actually starting from scratch,you're not looking at ablank page and wonderingwhat you're gonna put in it.It's just a matterof like rearranging thingsthat you already have.So, that's what I did.And then eventually I diddelete the actual embedsand create an entirely new presentationbecause I kind of tweakedthe approach to make ita little less verbose,you know, to add images.And let me show you what that looks like.So, this is the presentationor at least what itlooks like in Obsidian.You'll see I then went backand added styles and you know,just some things that haveto do with the transitionfor the slides, I added images and stuff.This is using the Advanced Slides plugin.You can also do this withthe core plugin slides.However, it's not as fully featured,like, you can change the backgroundand the styles and stuff.Let me show you what it doeslook like in advanced slides.So, I'm doing the slide previewnow let me remove the gridand this is how that looks.So, this is a title page and I can stepthrough it like this justby using the arrow keys,but I can also click openand browser and it looks like this.And then I can also havelike the speaker notes here.And so, while I'm reading it,I can have this on, you know, my monitorand then this window beingprojected or something.And then I can still go through it here.On the top right here,I can see what slide is coming next.I can go through all ofthe things that the notesthat I'd put here as speaker notes.I can restart the time,which is really coolso that I went through alot of these like time run.So, I would get an ideafor how much I was gonnaspend on certain slidesand at what point Ishould be halfway throughand that kind of thing.So, then I actually publishedthat slide presentation onlinebecause you can export itas HTML and what it lookslike is exactly what I justshowed you and I was runningthrough it locally exceptnow this is on my domain.So, it's on this was the way that I wasable to post it on Mastodon.I was like, I was doing this for a whileI think all the way upto just the night beforethe actual presentation.And for the days leadingup to the talk I waslike posting it to differentpeople in public forumsand also like in DMs and andstuff to get some reviews.And I thought that thereviews were valuable.And finally I did the talk.So, this is me actuallydelivering it in KubeCon EUand you might think that someof these slides are familiar.'Cause I was just using the same thingthat I was showing you.So, that was really cool.And the other cool thing is thatafter this talk I actually got some peoplewho had been following me on Obsidianand they came up and said like,oh yeah, that was so cool.I see that you changedthat thing on the slides.'Cause last night I saw thatyou posted it on Mastodonand responded to a commentthat somebody had made on it.And that was so cool thatthey had been able to seethe difference and thatthey had appreciatedthat I'd adjusted based on feedback.That is one of the partsabout learning in public.So, then the other applied notethat I created was onEmergent note-taking.My other big interest these daysand this one isn't as fleshed out.I talked about Zettelkastenand I also talkedabout Napkin because Ithink napkin is a toolthat really facilitates Emergence.I just did a video on it,but you can check out more about it here.I did manage to link itthough to a few other things.I've already written alot about Zettelkastenand I think there's a lot of overlapbetween that and Emergentnote-taking as wellas this concept of atomic notesat the bottom-up approach.So, I didn't feel the needto write as much about it.However, this is still an applicationof the same abstracted idea of Emergence.And what I did with thisis that I created a video.So, this is like my internal task notefor the video and thisis how I script video.So, it's all like bullet points.I script the intro andoutro and I have thingslike timestamps and achecklist of things to do.You maybe already watchedthis, but if you haven't,then I'm gonna leave alink to it over there.All of the notesthat I've shown you are alsoin themselves learning exhaustbecause I've published themall on Obsidian publish.But another thing that I haven't talkedabout is Changelog.So, I got this idea from like softwarewhen you have a repositoryof code, you often havelike a Changelog of newfeatures that you've added.So, I really like this idea of doing thatfor my notes becausethey're constantly changing.So, I actually publish the last 300 notesthat I've worked on or modifiedto some significant degree.There are things that I exclude from thislike my role-playing gamesbecause honestly that woulddominate this entire list.So, these are like the moreserious things that I work on.You can check it outif you wanna see what I've been thinkingand the stuff that I've been creating.So, I'm also filtering outthe actual source material.So, these aren't things that I've read.These are all notes thatI've actually written.So, it's a nice way tosee what's occupyingmy attention these days.I am using for this, a plug-incalled Vault Changelog.However, I am using aforked version of it.A fork that I didbecause I wanted to addthis excluded paths.I did create a PR to haveit accepted into the Repo,but I don't thinkit's being maintainedanymore, unfortunately.So, I'm just using myown fork for this plugin.I first read Emergence inNovember and my last videoon Emergent note-taking wasjust released a few weeks agoso that's five months.So yeah, it's been a long timeand it is definitely time consuming.To be honest, I'm not even done yet.I definitely see thisas a topic that I'llrevisit over time and add toand I'm sure my thoughtson it will change as well.That's part of the process.But I don't thinkthat time consumingnecessarily means tediousbecause from the very beginning,I was following my interests.I read Emergence and was captivatedby it and wanted to take it further.So, it was still veryintrinsically motivated.Not, you know, it wasn'tbecause somebody else wanted me to do it.When you learn from a placeof passion and curiosityrather than obligation,I think learning exhaust andyou know creating contentthat is hopefully usefulto others occurs almost without effort.If you'd like to see moreabout how I do this sortof thing and then checkout this video where I gothrough how I take notes ononline courses in Obsidian.Thank you for watching.(speaks in foreign language)