6 Tips for Learning How to Code Online

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This article was originally posted at https://medium.com/@christinatruong/6-tips-for-learning-how-to-code-online-e489a6043bff and was kindly shared by Christina Truong. Check out more of her work at https://christinatruong.com.

As many people are adjusting to social distancing, there have been a myriad of articles containing tips and tricks for working from home. But a lot of people are also using this extra time at home to take online courses. While the majority of the onus should be on the educator to craft and deliver course content in a meaningful and logical way, there are also things students can do to get the most out of their online learning experience.

As an educator, I try to tailor my LinkedIn Learning courses for the audience and the format. But the challenge of creating any type of course is not being able to tailor it specifically for every single person. So when planning my content, I try to order the topics in ways that logically build concepts onto each other and anticipate what types of questions learners may have along the way. This leads to the first tip.

Tip #1: Be patient

If you were learning a language such as English, Spanish or Japanese, you wouldn’t expect to become fluent in a couple hours right? Or even a couple weeks! Or months! Learning programming languages is similar.

When writing code, it often takes awhile to build something functional or to completion. So most courses begin with introductory concepts such as terminology or syntax, which is basically the grammar rules and structural patterns of the language. With HTML and CSS, you can see your output right away. So in that sense, these two languages are considered easier to get up and running with. But when learning, you’ll likely start with basic HTML content, such as headings and paragraphs, and basic CSS styles, such as changing colours or text styles. It takes time to learn more advanced concepts such as page layouts or responsive web design.

So, be patient.

You don’t have to completely master the basics to move on to more intermediate or advanced concepts, but you do have to start at the beginning. Gain some familiarity with the rules and foundational concepts first.

If you start a course and realize that you’re not actually that interested in learning about the nuts and bolts of programming, that’s ok! That’s why there are services such as Squarespace or WordPress, which handles the majority of the technical requirements for you. There are also plenty of courses about how to use these platforms. Sometimes you have to try something to figure out that you actually don’t like it. Once you figure that out, you can look for courses that suit what you really want to learn.

Tip #2: Watch ALL of the videos in order

In addition to being patient, this tip goes back to my previous point about creating content that follows a logical order. I totally understand the feeling of wanting to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. It’s tempting to skip videos to get to the stuff you’re most interested in faster. But sometimes that may mean missing related information.

Most of my courses, especially the project-based courses, follow this order:

  1. Introduce a concept, the syntax and how it works
  2. Show examples or small exercises to demonstrate how to apply the concept
  3. Incorporate concept into a final project to see how all the concepts work together
  4. Repeat steps 1–3 with a new concept, which builds onto previous concept

Let’s say you skipped the videos containing step 1 and 2 and went straight to 3. You’ll likely miss the background information about how, when or why to use the particular concept. If it’s a topic that you are already familiar with, I would still recommend watching it. Things always change or maybe you’ll learn something new that you didn’t know before. I often get feedback from people who aren’t new to coding but still enjoy watching beginner courses as a refresh or to learn about any new updates.

If you find yourself fighting the urge to skip a video, try watching it at a higher speed. (Or just take a break.) You’ll get through the video faster and still have the benefit of not potentially missing out on important information. In most video players, this setting can be changed by selecting the speed at the bottom right hand corner of the video player, then selecting a new speed from the menu. I find that 1.25x and 1.5x works pretty well, depending on the author.

Tip #3: Check the prerequisites and table of contents

The majority of my courses are for beginners, because I want to make learning to code as accessible as possible. But the label “beginner” can mean a lot of things. A beginner can be someone who’s never written any code before, or a beginner to just that particular language or a person with less than a couple years work experience in the field. This is why checking the prerequisites, before getting too deep into the course, is important.

Statistically, the introductory videos in many LinkedIn Learning courses are the least viewed videos. BUT THEY ARE ESSENTIAL! They contain information about what you should know before starting the course. For example, my CSS Essential Training course is for beginners, but it’s a CSS course. Which means, there’s an assumption that you have some knowledge of HTML and using text editors already.

In my introductory videos I have this type of prerequisite information, what you should know, suggestions for other courses to watch first (if necessary), how to access the exercise files and information about any tools, downloads or software installation is required before starting the course.

I also recommend glancing through the table of contents at the beginning to have a general idea of what topics will be covered throughout the course.

Tip #4: Take notes

Even though I make video courses, I sometimes get a little restless when watching video courses! Aside from speeding up the video, taking notes also keeps me active while learning. Sometimes taking handwritten notes helps with retaining information.

There is also a useful Notebook feature when viewing LinkedIn Learning courses, accessible from the toolbar. Depending on the size of your browser viewport, you may have to scroll horizontally to access this tab. When you leave a note here, a timecode is included. That means, when you go back to revisit your remarks, it will take you to the exact spot in the video where you made that note. Super handy!

Tip #5: Learn how to ask questions and search for answers more effectively

The more specific you get with your question, the easier it is to get to the bottom of the issues. Avoid asking vague questions such as:

“I tried exercise 5 and it doesn’t work. Can you tell me why?”

Try to include information about your operating system, browser, what you tried or where things stopped working. For example:

“I tried exercise 5 and my page looks different from yours. I can’t see the space between paragraph one and two but I was able to add a space around the heading. I tried adjusting the margin, like we did in the previous exercise, but it didn’t make any difference. I’m on a Mac and using the Firefox browser.”

With this kind of question, I have much more information to go on and can rule out or focus on certain areas a little bit easier.

Also, learning how to search for answers is a necessary part of programming because it would be very hard to remember every single concept, value, property name and so on. I find that using a search phrase that is your actual question, plus the language yields the best results.

For example, instead of searching for “flexbox align” try “how to align vertically with flexbox css.”

Tip #6: Take breaks whenever you need it

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you have so much to learn or so much to catch up on. If you’re anything like me, I have this nagging need to fill my time with productivity. (If you’re into astrology, then you know this is strong Virgo energy!) Even after over a decade of working in this industry and teaching, I still feel like I need to cram as much information into my head as I can handle. But in the end, it really isn’t that productive or healthy.

While a lot of us are adjusting to spending a little more time at home than usual, keeping busy with activities can help give you a little break from the news. But it’s okay to use some of this time to check in with loved ones or catch up on some Netflix or the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. So while this is a good time to acquire some new skills, don’t forget to take breaks when needed. Step away. Go take a shower or have a snack. Then come back, refreshed and ready to move onto the next step!

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