As a developer who keeps on learning and is not afraid to go back to basics, I’ve explored many different online courses and online curricula pertaining to web development. Based on a combination of experience and outside sources, I want to provide you with a rundown of how each online paid (or free) service may help you and if it’s worth it.
You’re welcome to read my previous article on How To Start Being A Web Developer quickly in case you want a good rundown of what to learn and when to learn it.
Generally speaking, most of them are worth it for their specific functions. Without further ado:
When I first started learning web development, Lynda was one of the most useful resources--mainly for the wide variety of course offerings and the fact that everything was video-based with commentary. There is also the fact that there were not many competitors at the time. Things were easy to pick up. Lynda is basically a huge repository of learning videos and instruction for a variety of subjects.
- It offers a huge variety of courses, not just about web development. If you ever want to dive into the world of programming you’ll have courses available on: web development (a variety of languages and techniques), web design, graphic design, SEO, back-end, front-end, and way more. If you ever consider moving into freelance, there are courses about running a small business, a freelancing business and much more. The courses can go from the broad like “Programming Fundamentals” to very specific like “Building and Monetizing Game Apps for Android”.
- All of the courses are based around videos. That way you get to see the work done right in front of you.
- There are several types of courses from product-based (build your first website) to concept-based (getting started with OOP PHP). With such variety, you can tackle issues however you want to.
- Outside of courses, Lynda also has a “First Look” on new technology, “Documentaries”, and others.
I’ve personally used Lynda to learn PHP and tackle many of the Adobe programs. It has helped me in many ways and I consider it a great starting place.
- The amount of courses can get confusing to browse through. They’re starting to mitigate how overwhelming it can be but it’s still hard to find an entry point for yourself. It’s useful to find a good curriculum or list of courses to take.
- Some of the courses can feel dated. The positive is that they have the updated versions (for example, don’t get stuck with the Photoshop CS5 tutorial, check for CS6). You just need to look out and check if you’re watching an old or a new version of the course.
So, what now?
Lynda is a great resource, it really is. I think that for beginners and for people who want to dabble in a large variety of technology, Lynda would be the best fit. Same goes for self-starters and for those who want to be well-rounded in the development world. Being able to tackle the design, business, and even SEO aspect of web development is a huge plus. Additionally, being able to jump in and learn about Quickbooks, accounting, 3-D Modeling, and whatever else is pretty awesome.
I would compare Lynda to a library: You can find just about everything there, you just need to look for the best tutorials.
Team Treehouse has risen in popularity in the past year or so due to its modern approach to learning. While Lynda feels a bit more traditional with full courses, breakdowns, practice materials and such, Treehouse focuses on a clear path to a product and a badge-based reward system.
- It has brand new content based on modern practices.
- Courses are based either on “projects” or “deep dives”. Deep dives tackle specific concepts, projects are projects. The clear separation makes it easy for you to either learn theory or practice what you learn.
- It has focused courses on web development from learning the language to business, meaning that it’s specifically geared to get you started as a developer in the professional field.
The biggest positive of Team Treehouse is the fact that you get the feel of making a startup while taking the courses. It feels less academic and more hands-on than the alternatives.
- It has a limited number of courses. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. Lynda has 10 different courses (for example) for Photoshop while Treehouse has one. This is not a quality vs. quantity battle, however.
So, what now?
If you’re sure you want to be a developer, this is the most clearcut path. By trimming down excess topics, Team Treehouse lets you dive right into creating websites, creating applications, and modeling yourself to create a startup. I’d compare Treehouse to a speed crash-course for development, design, and little bit of business.
Tuts+ is a great website; its blogs on their own are awesome resources. However, the company also offers a premium feature that it often advertises. There's a one-month (no sign up) course for learning jQuery in case you want to try out the format. I never personally subscribed to it but I did find Tuts+'s various free courses useful and informative. I’m, of course, subscribed to the blog.
- It has articles and courses about specific technology. Want to learn CoffeeScript? There’s a video tutorial for that.
- It has courses on a wide variety of topics including AfterEffects, 3-D modeling, and, of course, programming.
I personally would not recommend Tuts+ to a beginner but to someone who has a grasp on Web Development, it’s valuable. The tutorials are put together well and the programming conventions are up to standards. You can’t go wrong with Tuts+ if you like to learn CoffeeScript or a specific technology this way.
- The courses feel incomplete. Tuts+ usually publishes about new technology quickly, especially on its blog. But, Node.js, for instance, is not present at all while Team Treehouse and Lynda have Node.js content.
So, what now?
I think you would draw the most out of the service by going through the course library, finding specific topics and subscribing just to see those. You get good quality courses but, again, it feels somewhat incomplete. I’d compare Tuts+ to a specialty library that will have in-depth tutorials on specific topics but may not have some common topics.
Udemy is an interesting pick because it features a per-course payment system. While the ones above ask you to pay for time (per month, basically), Udemy asks you to pay for what you watch. The upside is the fact that some courses are entirely free. It all depends on the author. The downside is that you have to read reviews and consider the star rating to determine if you want to watch a course.
- It has rigorous single courses. The how to become a developer course alone has eight parts, each of which could be its own course, to be honest. However, at the time of writing, the course is $200, several times more than the monthly membership of others.
- There's no time limit. While Lynda and Team TreeHouse will cut you off after you stop paying your subscription, Udemy offers a “pay for it, watch whenever” system meaning that once you pay the $200 for that course, you’re welcome to come back whenever.
- The review/star system ets you know which courses are the most helpful. If you can’t decide what to watch first and what to learn first, this can be a great indicator.
I think that Udemy is an awesome alternative to other courses. I’ve used it before to learn more about Laravel and it was extremely useful.
- The per-course payment system can be too much to handle at first. While with Lynda and Team Treehouse, you can just switch courses, Udemy does not allow that. You buy a course, it’s yours.
So, what now?
Udemy is an awesome service. If you can front the cash and read reviews carefully, I’d pick Udemy. It’s similar to taking college courses, except the courses are updated and you only need to take what courses appeal to you. It’ll always be there to refer to in case you need to. For the sake of staying consistent, I’d compare Udemy to a bookstore. It’s more expensive to get the book you need but once you buy it, it’s yours and you don’t have to return it -- which is awesome.
I hate having to mention this one but W3Schools actually can be useful. I’ve used it as an intro to several different languages and as a quick reference. However, W3Schools is not an accurate source. It often gets criticized and rightly so. It turns out that a lot of people think that W3schools is affiliated with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is false. Watch out for those mistakes.
Coursera is a compilation of free online college courses. It’s pretty awesome in that it has courses on how to Learn To Program, Algorithms and other topics. It’s pretty great when you want to get into the academic portion of programming and development, basically learning the science. But I would dismiss it as a resource to get you started programming right away.
What’s great, though, is that if you want to know the inner-workings of some of the fundamentals, Coursera is the best place for it.
Codecademy, I’d say, is more about coding rather than “developing”. Let me explain the difference. CodeAcademy can quickly familiarize you with whatever programming language you pick. This is great if you know programming fundamentals or want to quickly learn the basics of Ruby, for example. With their interactive interface, it’s pretty easy to follow along.
Worth a try for sure!
My personal preferences?
When I first dove into web development, Lynda was everything. However, there are obviously many more options now. So if I had to do it all over again, what would I do?
- I would start with Team Treehouse. Lynda can be a pain when it comes to searching through it, and the alternatives are either incomplete or require me to put down more cash than I’m comfortable with. Team Treehouse will also lead you to your first few products and portfolio pieces.
- If I wanted a broader knowledge of subjects, I’d unsubscribe from Team Treehouse and get on Lynda. It has a wealth of info.
- For any specific either not covered by Lynda well enough or simply missing, I’d either get a course from Udemy or get a subscription for TutsPlus until I’m done with it.
- Then I’d unsubscribe from everything until the need arose again.
I’m a huge fan of online courses and am still on the fence about resubscribing to Lynda since it has a knack for releasing tutorials on updates (like their new PHP 5.5 “First Look”) and whenever I’m doing something super specific, it's likely to have a guide for it. Why am I on the fence by the way? Because I’m cheap.