Learning involves two major components: identifying what needs to be learned and learning it.  Finding reference material on most subjects is simple if one knows what needs to be learned.  Unfortunately, it is often not simple to determine what to learn.  This is where learning by immersion comes into play: the student is immersed in material containing examples and very limited introductory material.   Key to this is having relevant, well explained examples devoid of extraneous information.  I contend that if the "immersive" content contains appropriate links to relevant references, learning by immersion is a most effective method for accumulating relevant knowledge.

See my tutorials page for some tutorials I have written with this concept in mind.

Purpose (this and below sections are slightly dated)

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how people learn.  What causes people to truly learn, and not just store information in short-term memory, to be lost within hours or days?  I believe part of the problem is that people do not learn an idea well unless they really want to -- unless they are truly motivated to.  Instead of calling this a bad habit that should be eliminated, how about catering to it?

A First Cut

One cannot learn more than a certain amount of material per second.  Some estimate the rate at six bits per second (source unknown); all I know is that I'm not going to learn everything at once. Nor am I going to learn material completely axiomatically; that is, I need to see some examples, then see how they work, modify them, and ultimately make my own from scratch.  Asking me to understand the foundation of a topic completely before moving on is one of the best ways to convince me to not learn.

The Ideal

Disclaimer: the method I describe might work better for people who think like me, like engineers.  If you don't agree with what I say, let me know.

Whenever I am learning something, I like to take a top-down approach, where I understand at least part of the big picture, then drill down to more and more detail.  Unfortunately, hard copy (e.g. textbooks) can only approximate this approach.  Introductions to chapters are nice, but the layout and order of topics is set.  I propose a system where the user gets to "drill down" to more and more detail, whenever he/she needs to.  The necessity of an additional edition to correct mistakes and add material is another huge hindrance.

What if the material you were trying to learn was presented in a way so that you could see exactly the information you want to see, and very little that you do not?  This could be accomplished with a hierarchical "complexity structure," where you see the information you want to see and can always drill down to more detail if you do not understand something?  If there is something you do not understand, chances are others won't understand it as well, so ask a question and have an expert add more information.  This would be a cumulative process: the more people contribute, the better it becomes.  It is a win-win situation, as long as someone puts in the initial effort.  One reason I believe this has not been done before is the return on investment problem.