Learning to Code With Interactive Training
It often seems as if the tools we use to learn are lagging behind the technology they are teaching us. A startup called Educative thinks they have an answer.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
My recent post on learning AI for free attracted a lot of interest because demand for learning materials is at an all-time high. In the technology industry, there’s huge demand for continuous education as we try to keep up with new subjects and cross-train to take on different roles. Most developers have an expectation and a desire to keep learning; it’s why we work in software, after all. These days, it’s easier than ever to learn new subjects, with a flood of online resources such as video courses, blogs, and forums to supplement books and online developer documentation. In AI and data science, particularly, there is such a demand for skilled developers that companies like Microsoft and Google are releasing their own training materials.
Like many, I’ve taken a few online courses (MOOCs) from the range of different providers. However, just as for classroom learning, one size does not fit all. I find that sitting passively through videos and taking a basic multiple choice quiz at the end of them doesn’t help me learn. Despite the time spent in front of the video, I don’t remember much of the content so, when I need to get coding, it’s hard to get started. The way I learn is through doing — picking a project and cutting code. Many developers learn best from a hands-on approach, where they write code as they learn, break things, and ask questions along the way. This is why I recently wrote a second article about various AI communities to give you ideas for projects and support when you have questions.
There are, of course, some training providers that break courses up into small sections to keep you from drifting off in videos, and others that have an interactive environment that allows you to code in the browser as you learn. The strongest immersive learning platform for software developers I’ve found is called Educative, which was co-founded by veteran software engineers from Facebook and Microsoft. Each course comes with an interactive learning environment and a preconfigured virtual machine, so there is a developer environment ready to use from the first lesson, coding in the browser environment there and then. Not only does it mean you can jump into code and avoid any lengthy setup, but it also means you don’t have to install anything onto your machine until you’re sure you need it and understand it. When you’re just trying out a new web framework, being able to jump straight into coding saves frustration and time.
Each course is a combination of quizzes, playgrounds, code snippets, and illustrations. Course prices range from free to $80, but on average are $29 per course with permanent access to the content. There are about 50 courses covering a range of topics, with an emphasis on the most in-demand core programming languages and frameworks such as Java, Python, and React. More courses are added each week and each has a quality control check before it is published and a money-back guarantee if you’re not happy with it.
The Educative team have created a frictionless CMS for course authors to make it easier to create high-quality learning materials for new developer communities. As a technical author, I often create documentation for companies that need developers to work with their products, and I can see the benefits of putting a course together that drops a potential user straight into coding rather than setup. The team claims that you provide them with a Docker container and they can virtualize your environment. Goodbye to writing the “Quick Start” guide and straight to getting people onto “Hello World” seems like a good thing to me.
I plan to give it a try once I’ve run through a course or two myself and learned how best to structure the immersive elements so they aren’t too distracting from the content. I like the look of the Python course that teaches you how to make a neural network in Python, for example, and want to see what some of the other course authors are doing to make their courses engaging and immersive.
The Educative team today announced that they have raised $2.3 million in seed funding to grow the platform further and extend their user base beyond the 65,000 users that are currently learning new development skills using the courses available. Check out their courses and let me know what you think in the comment section!
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.