Have you ever started an online course, made loads of notes and then come back to read them the day after and realised that you have no idea where to start or what part of it would benefit you right now?

I have. When I first started designing on a computer I was only used to the old fashioned paint on paper setup and thought, “I know, I’ll buy a course on Photoshop to teach me how to transfer my art to the screen”.

I just bought the basics, thinking that I just needed a good grounding and then I could take it from there. It was a great tutorial, starting with the very basics and showing me what each tool does. I made lots of notes and I got really excited…. And then I opened Photoshop, a blank new screen opened up and I had no idea what to do.

It’s a bit like Lego. I didn’t play with a lot of Lego when I was little and our play set was limited to the normal building blocks, two windows and a door. I made a lot of Lego houses but not much else. Recently, I bought my daughter the new girly Lego, the café, the house and the beauty salon (I know, very girly stuff right?) We followed the very detailed instructions and made the  buildings and they were great, we really enjoyed that. But then she lost interest in the toy as Lego and just played with it like a mini dolls house, which soon outlived its appeal.

My husband broke girl Lego

Please note, the gun swivels around and the tracks move

This is the Lego Friends cafe, beauty salon and swimming pool. Please note, the gun swivels around and the tracks move, and I did manage to stop him getting the spray paint out to give it some camo.

And then, my husband got hold of it! Soon, our living room floor was covered in tanks, aeroplanes, helicopters and gun emplacements, all with moving parts. Yep, out of girl Lego. I can’t say I’ve ever been more surprised by a toy (or my husband). My daughter loved it. She now spends hours creating wonderful helicars, flying houses and even a playpark with a working roundabout and swing – all from her imagination.

You see, once we took away the rules and instructions, she (and me) was able to play with it in a far more creative way.

I’ve learnt far more about ‘how’ to build with Lego than I ever learnt by following the instructions. I can pick up the guide at any time to rebuild the tiny houses, but by just having a go and learning to play with it we have had a lot of fun and started to use the blocks in the original creative Lego way.

We learn through playing

And it’s the same with learning a new skill or following a new course or tutorial. We learn through playing. Once I opened up Photoshop to try and create a flyer design for the first time (don’t ask me to show you here, it was dire!) and started to play around with the tools I suddenly understood some of the notes I had made.

I came back to listen to the original tutorial a few months later and even though I had just been playing with Photoshop, I understood far more and was able to apply it to my designs. Suddenly, I could see how I could apply this knowledge and how I could create something new with the tools detailed on my tutorial.

Don’t be afraid to play

So next time you buy a  course, have a play first. Open up WordPress and play with a theme, sign up to Twitter and write a few Tweets, download Screencast-O-Matic and try out your first webinar, join a few groups in LinkedIn and make some new contacts. Nobody is watching or judging the results, you won’t break it and you’ll be amazed at how much more you will now learn from your new course.