Online learning options

For people wanting to learn more about web design and development, there are a ton of online learning options that can help you get started. But sometimes it’s difficult to know what to focus on, since you might not know which skills are the most important to learn first. Fortunately, many companies offer training to get you started in the right direction.

At one end of the scale you have immersive boot-camp style programs, such as Hack Reactor and Dev Bootcamp. These programs are typically in-person, although online options exist, and last around 3 months. While many people go directly into well-paying tech jobs after finishing these programs, they typically cost north of $10,000 in tuition and cannot be done while holding down any kind of outside job.

MacBook Air with mouse
All you need (assuming an Internet connection) to access online learning options.

At the other end of the scale are tutorial-type websites that are free, such as Codecademy, or charge a reasonable subscription fee, such as Treehouse or Code School. Students can complete assignments at their own pace from anywhere with a decent Internet connection, while in their pajamas if they want. But there tends to be a ceiling on how far you can go with such sites, and it’s much less common for people to get jobs solely from what they learned on a tutorial site.

There’s also a middle ground. Sites such as Thinkful and Skillcrush cost a bit more than tutorial websites (usually a few hundred dollars), but nowhere near the cost of an immersive program. These sites typically offer focused courses that expect a time commitment of 8-12 hours per week for a few months, and they have private online communities where you can discuss the course. Another thing these sites offer is feedback on the work you’re doing. This could be in the form of an assigned mentor that you chat with at scheduled times or comments on work you post to the course community.

Soapbox moment: I think feedback is critical in almost any endeavor, especially for anything you want people to pay you to do. It’s one thing to do an activity where you only show the results to your loved ones, but if you want to start improving your craft, eventually you need to show your work to people who aren’t otherwise connected to you. (end soapbox moment)

While all the different types of online learning I’ve mentioned have their advantages, I’m currently focusing on the middle-ground sites. I’m not ready to relocate or dedicate myself full-time to an immersive program. That rules out the boot camps for me, at least for now. The tutorial websites are good, and I actually use them regularly, but I’d like to learn some real-world skills that are hard to teach in those environments.

Currently I’m working through a web design course from Thinkful and just started a Ruby on Rails course from Skillcrush. I’ll post some thoughts on the Thinkful course next week and the Skillcrush course when the material picks up. Both are great sites that seem to have great people behind them, but there are differences in their approaches. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but one might be a better fit for your needs, so I’ll try to address those issues when I talk about my experiences.

Have you done any training through any of these places (or something similar) that I’ve mentioned? What was your experience like? Tell me all about it in the comments!

A version of this article originally appeared on

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