Kevin SmithWeb Software Engineer

Online Learning with Code School and Treehouse

In preparation for my time at Hack Reactor, I spent about 2 months learning on my own through various channels, both online and off.  I began with some basic books covering the fundamentals of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, web design fundamentals, and web standards. Most of these books, despite their best efforts, were fairly uninspiring. I ended up referring to them only when I need to quickly reference a particular topic. Even then, I was able to find a better solution that was more specific to the topic at hand on websites like Stack Overflow. I knew I was missing out on some key curriculum around each of these subjects, and I went looking online for a better way to learn.

After an hour of research, I decided to sign up for a couple of video-based coding websites called Treehouse and Code School. I tried some sample videos on each site and decided they both had quite a bit to offer in terms of boosting my current skill set. However, despite being in the same vertical of online web development training, each site has its own strengths, and I decide to sign up for both. What follows is my experience on each site.

treehouse-logo31

Treehouse
I started learning with Treehouse first because their site is geared towards absolute beginners that would like to learn how to build websites from scratch. I was already designing simple sites on my own, but I felt like starting at the beginning would help me to fill in some knowledge gaps surrounding the fundamentals.

The Treehouse approach is to present you with a series of short video lectures on a particular detailed topic (like CSS selectors). Between each, or every few videos there is a short quiz or a short interactive coding challenge to test your skills. There are also complete web projects, like designing a responsive website, that walk you through building the site while holding your hand along the way. With these project videos, it helps to write code while the video is playing on another screen.

Treehouse also has a few different ways to move through the curriculum. You can select a broad topic like Javascript Foundations, or you can join one of the many Learning Adventures like how to Become a Web Designer. These Leaning Adventures are roadmaps through the curriculum that group together all of the broader topics and puts them in a logical learning order. I chose to go through the Become a Web Developer Learning Adventure and was very pleased with the pace and the depth of videos on each topic.

Treehouse has a huge library of videos on many different topics, from front-end aesthetic design, to Ruby on Rails, to iOS development, to how to start a business.

code_school

Code School
I started learning at Code School after I had spent about a month on Treehouse. Their curriculum is more geared towards people with some prior web design experience that are looking to learn a new language or expand their knowledge of a more advanced topic. Code School is also the resource Hack Reactor recommended as a good way to prepare for their fast-paced software engineering curriculum.

Code School has courses on topics not covered at Treehouse like Git, jQuery, Coffee Script, Backbone.js, and Node.js. Their most extensive video library is a thorough introduction to Ruby and Rails, with 9 separate modules currently. The first course I tried was called Git Real, and it was the best learning tool I had found online regarding what Git does and how to use it. I have run through 3 other Git tutorials online, and Git Real was by far the most clear and easiest to learn of all of these options.

My next modules covered the basics of JavaScript and jQuery. These modules did a great job preparing me for both the Hack Reactor prep work and the projects we have completed thus far.

Code School features very in-depth video lessons and extensive interactive challenges that put your newly learned knowledge to the test. Each video is about 5-10 minutes in length, and once the video is complete you attempt to solve the presented problems as their software checks your progress each step of the way.

Comparison & Tips
I can honestly say I would sign up for both of these online schools again, and I have current subscriptions at both sites. If you are new to web development and looking to learn the basic fundamentals of CSS, HTML, and aesthetics, I would recommend Treehouse to start with. If you are already comfortable with building simple websites and looking to learn JavaScript (and JS frameworks) or Ruby, Code School is the best place to start.

Personally I preferred the Code School course layout of short videos with in-depth, interactive challenges directly following. The Code School interactive programming environment is superior to the similar tool on Treehouse, and Code School uses it to “get your hands dirty” after every single video. You need be more accountable to yourself when working through the Treehouse videos because their tests and challenges aren’t as demanding.

On Treehouse, I preferred their Learning Adventures to the way Code School presents its courses. Treehouse also has a larger quantity of videos to choose from, which is why they have different ways to go through them all. I also like the interactive projects on Treehouse that leave you with a completed website by the time you are done with all of the videos.

For both sites, I found it helpful to keep a notebook with extensive notes and examples on each topic. I am constantly referring to these notes, even 2 months after writing them. Writing something down seems to cement the knowledge in my brain, but it does add quite a bit of time to going through the videos. I was having to pause the videos a lot to make notes and write down examples. It’s a lot of work, but you will be glad you have those notes in the future.

Conclusion
We live in an amazing time where so much knowledge is so readily available on the internet. These video training websites are extremely inexpensive for the depth of knowledge they contain. For about $25 a month you can expand your skillset to include entire libraries of things you did not know last month. Combined with learning at your own pace in your own house, they are far superior to basic web design classes taught at traditional universities. I wanted to take what I learned on these sites to the next level of becoming a full-fledged web engineer, which led me to sign up for Hack Reactor.

Both Code School and Treehouse are adding new videos and lessons to their libraries every week, and I encourage you to try a sample video at each, and sign up for both! You can never go wrong with learning some new skills.

Links
Code School
Treehouse
Code Academy – free, without videos

8 Comments

  1. May 13, 2013

    Hey Kevin! Thanks for sharing your experiences learning on Code School. It’s great to hear how we were able to help you for Hack Reactor! Keep in touch. =)

    • Kevin Smith
      May 13, 2013

      Appreciated all of the in-depth videos Gregg. Just checked out the Backbone modules in the last couple days! We’re on to CoffeeScript today.

  2. May 14, 2013

    Thanks for being a Treehouse Student Kevin! We’re here to serve you so please let us know if you need anything.

  3. Tom
    July 30, 2013

    Thankyou very much for this comparison, it was very helpful!

  4. Mary Pieroszkiewicz
    November 20, 2013

    THX. I want to start learning with Treehouse and CodeSchool.

  5. February 27, 2014

    Nice… looking to learn JavaScript and found this article after googling treehouse vs code school and I think you’ve convinced me to go w/ the latter.

  6. January 29, 2015

    I actually prefer codeschool over teamtreehouse for some courses like fundamentals of designs, rubynrails.
    http://webuilddesign.com/enroll-in-code-school-at-9-dollars/

  7. January 30, 2015

    Yes, now learning web design is not a luxury. Anyone can do that using amazing sites like codeschool and teamtreehouse. If you combine courses from codeschool and teamtreehouse you will surely get your own power house of learning. But I think codeschool is going to grow fast as they are recently acquired by pluralsight. Codeschool also offer first month trial: http://webuilddesign.com/enroll-in-code-school-at-9-dollars/

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