I’m a hybrid content author and web designer with no formal training in computer science. Over the years, I’ve honed my HTML and CSS skills through trial and error, repetition, books, online courses, and by tapping the expertise of colleagues.
Codecademy gets it right. For starters, you aren’t required to sign up for an account prior to beginning lessons. Instead, you can dive right in by typing your name in the site’s integrated editor. Entering your name is your first lesson. Only later, after completing a few exercises, are you prompted to sign up for a free account (which you only need to do if you want to keep tabs on your progress). At this point, you’ll have a good idea if this is for you. While this is a relatively minor detail, it’s a thoughtful touch that underscores how this is a different kind of training tool.
Lessons are divided into topical sections that grow in complexity as you progress. At each step of the way, accompanying text explains what’s going on and why. Within a few days, you’re writing simple programs that tie together all that you’ve learned up to that point.
While there are badges for completing sections, progress meters, and a point scoring system to help keep motivation up, the real driver – and the heart of Codecademy – is the integrated editor that accompanies each lesson. Rather, the integrated editor really is the lesson. You read a short bit of natural language text explaining a concept or new syntax, and then you’re asked to write some code to demonstrate comprehension. Everything you learn, in other words, you learn by doing yourself. You can’t move on to the next lesson unless you get the code right. This real-time feedback works.
More than other online courses, videos and books that I’ve tried over the years, Codecademy fosters a clearer understanding of what it is that I’m doing and why I’m doing it because it is, quite literally, engaging. It’s not that other courses I’ve taken are not good, it’s that the Codecademy model is particularly good.