The Cranky Sysadmin A world of technology, fun, and ignorant rants.

September 15, 2013

Learn by Doing

Filed under: Programming — Cranky Sysadmin @ 10:12 am

I’ve always been a fan of learn by doing. I think that’s what homework is supposed to be for. There are two problems with homework though. First, the exercises always seemed like pointless repetition to me. The second problem (which may actually be the whole problem) is that the feedback loop is really slow. You take the lesson, do the homework overnight, hand it in and get feedback the day after that. Maybe the reason it seemed like pointless repetition to me was that it was hard to connect the lesson to the results of my homework. There are other problems with the education. One problem is how concepts are explained, but I’ll let Kalid at betterexplained.com rail about those. Read below the fold for more on fast feedback courses.

I’ve been needing to brush up on my HTML, CSS, and Javascript for a long time, and I’ve been curious about jQuery. I’ve never taken the time to read any of the countless books on these subjects though because it’s less fun than the other things I’m learning about. There have been some recent articles on news.ycombinator.com peddling various online coding schools. The ones that seem most interesting to me (in descending order of interest) are:

  • codeacademy.com which is currently free as far as I can tell. There are a lot of courses on html, css, javascript, ruby, python, and php. You can also create courses in any of these areas if you’re an expert in a field.
  • codeschool.com also looks nice. Many of the courses look like they’re behind a pay-wall with the reasonable fee of $25/month for an individual. Their selection of courses is similar in some respects, but they add some rails and IOS courses as well as some eclectic electives like R.
  • teamtreehouse.com looks like it has similar objectives to the other two. Honestly, I haven’t looked into this site much, but it’s on my list.
  • jsfiddle.net isn’t an online school, but it is a sandbox for experimenting with html, css, and javascript. It has that nice tight feedback loop and can be used for further learning.

All of these sites have a “instruction, code, results” loop that is very short. I recommend giving these a go if you need to learn coding. As all of the online schools are made by people, there is room for improvement. It would be nice if the courses paced themselves to your learning speed. I don’t know how this might be done. Maybe use a pace feedback slider or something. The courses can be a little buggy sometimes. I suspect this because they have to support so many browsers and testing coverage is a little light.

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