Greg’s Adventures

Contextual Electronics

·3 mins

I’m certainly not going to run out of things to learn about electronics. Anytime I start exploring something new, it leads to a bunch of combined feelings that mix up into a frothing mass. Excitement at gaining better understanding, and the general love of learning. Distress wondering if some things are ever going to make sense, or if I lack the fundamental bits I need to figure them out. (like Hard Math(tm)) Sleepiness, from too many late nights fiddling.

Previously, I’d mostly fiddled with 3D printers and microcontrollers. A few weeks ago, I decided to dig more deeply. (but not too deeply!) I started looking into board design and other more advanced topics. I built out my lab a bit, adding a SMD hot-air reflow station, a desoldering station, better lighting and a giant magnifying glass. I picked up several books (notably: The Art of Electronics and Practical Electronics for Inventors) and started struggling through them.

I’ve always learned best on my own, by experimenting, reading and diving in as deeply as possible. Sort of a full-immersion style, where I decide to do something and then figure out how as I go along. I was following this, and it wasn’t going quickly enough for me, so I started poking around for ways to

I found Contextual Electronics via their YouTube channel, specifically via the Getting to Blinky 4.0 series. The approach they take to online learning is interesting, and unusual. It is structured and billed as an apprenticeship program. It is a bit like a traditional online course in that you watch videos and interact asynchronously with your instructors and fellow students.

It differs by presenting “participate” videos, where you are expected to attempt a thing with a small amount of guidance. These tasks are limited in scope so as not to overwhelm, but are not trivial. I can tell significant thought went into structuring the flow of the lessons so as not to assign something too complex too quickly. It would be easy to get discouraged, especially if this is not the way a person learns usually. For me, it is a perfect match.

Where it has succeeded most strongly for me is providing inspiration and drive. I’ve designed and ordered four boards now. I’ve learned “on the job,” much like an intern or apprentice. I’ve also started work on several personal projects, one of which I’m terribly excited about. I’ll discuss it in more detail in a later post. (you can check my GitHub for clues, if you are curious. :D)

If you have any interest in learning electronics more seriously, I can highly recommend Contextual Electronics. The videos are well produced and interesting. They use mostly free or inexpensive tools, making it very approachable. Chris also has a great sense of humor, which is fun, especially when fighting KiCad bugs. ;)