I’m so thankful for all 3 of these companies. They’ve all been a huge help in my path from total hack to advanced-beginner rubyist. After spending so much time on all 3 sites, I thought the time had come to share my thoughts to help anyone out there who may not have time to fully devote to all 3. They’ve all got strengths and weaknesses, and each seems more targeted for a specific learner. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on each, and you can see my profiles here:
View Treehouse Courses I’ve Taken [Inactive]
In this first post, I’ll cover Code School in-depth, followed by Treehouse and Codecademy in later posts. If it helps, I’d describe my learning style as the exact opposite of a photographic memory. I need to first understand something, then I need to read it, then I need to type it myself, then I need to answer questions on it, then I need to repeat the process until it’s beaten into my head. All while trying not to think about giant spaceships.
Monthly Cost: $25.00
Ruby Courses Available (as of 1/10/13): 8
Best For: Advanced Beginners and Above
I’ll come right out and say it: I love Code School. They were the first online learning course I tried, and I find they consistently have high quality, entertaining courses. The entertainment aspect wasn’t just a little sugar to help the medicine go down either; it really did help keep me motivated.
Code School Strengths:
Incredibly High Production Values: Every class is extremely well done. The styling is awesome, and the slide transitions are well thought out and helpful. The graphics don’t feel gratuitous: each one, whether it’s a little caution sign next to bad code or a 2x up next to great code, adds information to the text. It all adds up to do a great job of keeping my attention focused, and I personally never found any of it distracting.
Good Pacing: This is more a matter of personal preference, but I prefer a slightly fast pace with online learning. I figure I can always pause or rewind the video if it’s slightly fast, but if it’s too slow there’s nothing I can do and I find my mind wandering uncontrollably. It might just have been my imagination, but I felt like they chose the pacing based off the topic, so beginner videos are slightly slower whereas more advanced videos move at a faster pace.
Good Presenters: I think Greg (the main presenter) does a great job presenting. I don’t even know what you’d call it, but it feels more like a friendly discussion and less like a presentation. He seems to know the areas that are worth spending a little more time on, and he takes the time to mention an example.
Really Useful Content: Ultimately the goal of everything else is to help you learn useful content, and I think they guys at Code School have done a great job of distilling things down to some of the most useful content. Each course has a ton of usable, practical information on every slide. I’m able to take a lot of it and directly apply it to Ruby projects I’m working on.
Well Thought Out Exercises: The exercises strike a balance of being difficult enough that I really had to think through them and often reference the slides. This is huge for me, as I have trouble just learning by reading, so exercises that really test my understanding of the subject are hugely helpful. With online learning there’s no instructor to contact, so it’s also incredibly important that the exercises aren’t too hard. They solved this two ways: first, they based the exercises very closely off the examples they used in the course, often just changing the variable names. If I still had trouble after referencing the notes, they provide hints and eventually the answer if you’re truly stuck. Surprisingly, not all online code schools do this.
Code School Weaknesses
Fewer Courses: This one feels a bit unfair, since they’re a smaller shop and since they spend so much time focusing on quality. That said, if you’re a total beginner and can only afford to pay for one code school, this could be an issue. If you compare just their ruby selection to the others, and you consider how much content is in each course, they actually compare pretty favorably. But in general, they have the most limited number of courses of the three.
Tough to Refer Back To: I’m quick at picking up concepts, but I have a terrible time with things like remembering specific syntax. One thing that’s been tough with the code school courses is referring back to them. They offer downloadable slides, but I find the format and styling works great during the course, but feels busy and not as readable when referencing later. I think something similar to what railscasts offers, the option to watch or read the episode, would be hugely helpful. It also seems as if the courses themselves aren’t really designed to be done more than once, which is shame since there’s a limited amount of courses and it’s a monthly subscription model. You can redo the courses, but things like drilling down to certain sections or quickly reviewing certain parts was tough for me. Though if they had a read-through option with code examples like railscasts, I probably wouldn’t even need to redo the courses.
Code School Review:
Overall, I highly recommend Code School. They’ve been a huge help for me, the courses are enjoyable, and it’s a ton of actionable content that I can use directly in projects. They have several free courses such as Try Ruby, so if you haven’t tried them yet go do it. Right now.
Update: I found out my treehouse account was accidentally deleted by the group admin when it was moved into a group account for learning, but I’m trying to figure out a way to get it re-instated.