Maybe you chose an online program to learn to code because you work full-time and need a flexible schedule. Or maybe you were looking for a lower-cost option. Or you didn’t want to re-locate but still wanted the chance to work with classmates and instructors from around the world. Whatever the reason, now that you’ve made your choice, you want to make sure you get the most out of your online course. These 10 not-to-miss tips will help you have an amazing online learning experience from start to finish. You’ll find out both why each is critical for your studying success and how to use the ideas right away so that you get the most of every part of your course starting today!
Plus, our friends at Skillcrush have created this downloadable kit to get the most out of your online course, including immediately actionable ideas, a printable checklist, and bonus tips in every section so you'll be at the top of your class!
1. Schedule your studies and projects
You know how you never seem to get around to cleaning out your closet but you always remember to go to a dentist appointment (even though it’s definitely NOT more fun than reorganizing your storage space!)? I’m guessing that’s because you put your teeth cleaning in your calendar but you don’t schedule time for closet cleaning.
The same thing applies to your online studies. You probably won’t have a certain time that you have to do your lessons or projects. But, if you actually reserve a time for them every day or every weekend, you’re much more likely to arrange time for them in your busy schedule.
To make it even easier, consider blocking out time to work on your online course first thing each morning. That way the day’s “unexpected emergencies” won’t keep you from your class. And try to take advantage of even quick moments to review concepts or look through some material. Every minute helps, and sometimes you can focus better for short periods of time rather than trying for marathon sessions now and then.
Bonus tip: Use that handy alerts or reminder function in your calendar app and you won’t even have to remember to look at your calendar to know when you need to study!
2. Keep track of your learning
You know that you have lots to learn to reach your goal of being a “web unicorn”, but you might not realize how far you’ve already come. By keeping track of your learning, you’ll be able to see all the concepts you’ve learned and code you’ve created - which can be just the confidence booster you need sometimes. And you might even amaze yourself when you look at your first projects or wonder why CSS floating seemed so impossible at first.
You can use the tools that your online course might give you, like a class dashboard or syllabus. Or you can document your work in a digital journal or just a good ol’ fashioned paper notebook. Be sure to also save your old code snippets and files so that you can go back to them later.
Bonus tip: Blog about your learning experience and you’ll have both a record of your journey and something to share with the tech community and to show potential employers your enthusiasm and problem-solving potential.
3. Interact with your classmates and instructors - and the community!
In your online course, you’ll probably have exponentially more classmates and instructors than you would in a face-to-face classroom. So, take advantage of them all! They can get you answers if you’re really stumped by a problem, give you feedback to improve your projects, and share resources and ideas that you might not have ever come up with.
In Skillcrush Blueprints, you can interact in the course forum (we invite students to a private Mightybell circle as our chat room), by email, in video office hours, or on social media. No matter where you are learning, seek out the ways to connect with your fellow classmates. You can even go beyond the classroom and participate in online discussions on Stack Overflow, wordpress.org, Quora or reddit.
Bonus tip: If you return the favor by answering your peers’ questions, you’ll both strengthen your understanding of what you’re learning and start to develop a skill that’ll be crucial for you as a future tech team member.
4. Look for answers yourself first
Learning to help yourself is critical for your learning and for your future career. When you research the answer to a question or look for different solutions, you’ll get more information and ideas. And, when you get into the working world, you won’t be able to bug your colleagues every time you have a question. So, you’ll need to start learning to help yourself. And don’t worry! That’s what professionals do - Google is a developer’s best friend!
Besides becoming a search term guru, you need to develop detective-like debugging skills by combing every character of your code. Look for punctuation, syntax, and logic errors. And, if you still can’t find the problem or just aren’t satisfied with your work, re-do it from the beginning without looking at your “old” design or code. You’ll probably find yourself thinking in completely new ways.
Bonus tip: Try reading your code backwards -- that fresh perspective usually tricks your brain into seeing mistakes you missed before.
5. Learn how to ask for help
If you gave it your very best to look for answers yourself, but still need help, it’s fine to put out a plea. But take a second to think about how you ask for help before you send that email to your instructor or post your problem on the class forum. You want to be sure you show respect for the people helping you and give them the information they need to help you. It’s just good manners - plus you’ll probably get a faster and more accurate answer, and you’ll most likely learn as you’re explaining the problem - and maybe even figure out the answer in the process!
First and foremost, say thank you before you even ask, i.e. “I appreciate you taking the time to look at my code”. Then give plenty of details - like what lesson or project you’re working on, what you're trying to do, what you've tried so far, what happens when you try it, etc. (Remember to include any screenshots, code snippets or links where they can see your work). And ask a specific question, for example not just "What do you think?" but "Do you think a sans serif font would be better for the navigation menu?" And, finally, wait patiently! As much as your instructors or fellow learners love you, they’ve got other students or projects they’re working with so give them some time to get back to you.
Bonus tip: Keep your coding karma flowing by following up with the people who helped you afterwards. Most importantly, thank them for assisting you. But also let them know how their answer helped you and tell them how you implemented it in your project or learning. This is an especially wonderful way to give back in online student communities since someone will probably face the same problem and can learn from your follow-up some day.
6. Concentrate on what you’re doing
Some of the blessings of online learning, like being able to do it anywhere and anytime, can also be a curse. Since you might be trying to follow along with a lesson while your family watches tv or write some code during your lunch break at work, you can easily get distracted by what’s going on around you or other things you could be doing. And, on top of that, the sheer volume of topics, programming languages, tools, and tricks you could, should, would learn can be enough to overwhelm even the most dedicated of students.
You can focus yourself when it’s time to study by putting on headphones (soothing or motivating music optional), going to another room with your laptop, or scheduling your lessons early in the morning (see tip 1), after working hours, or when your house is quiet in the evening. Then just take it one lesson, one concept, and one project at a time. The journey will never end (you’ll need to keep learning throughout your tech career) so just enjoy each step - and be happy for the endless opportunities it brings you!
Bonus tip: If you work best with some background noise, try out tech podcasts! There are plenty of killer ones for keeping up with what’s hot. Or, if you really just need fun music for motivation, try the Skillcrush Spotify playlist and rock out while you code!
7. Review what you’ve learned
Besides re-reading or re-watching the actual content of your classes, you can also review your own notes or “cheatsheets” provided. And don’t forget re-trying the exercises or even whole projects. Most of them will probably only take you a few minutes the second time around, but it’ll be worth the time to solidify your knowledge.
Bonus tip: If just reviewing seems boring, use the “rubber ducky” technique. That is, explain the concept or even how you did an exercise or project to your best friend, neighbor, dog or even the little yellow rubber ducky in your tub. By vocalizing what’s inside your head - and, in the case of live listeners - responding to their questions, you’ll really find out if you know your stuff!
8. Use projects to learn
If you’re like a lot of learners, you don’t find the “theory” of design or programming as interesting as putting it into practice. Even though you can’t skip getting the fundamental information, you can enjoy your learning by making it “real” with projects. When you apply what you know to solve problems - especially ones that you have personally - you’ll get a whole new level of understanding. You might even get into “the zone” - that feeling when you’re more focused on creating your project than learning itself - which is when you truly start to internalize information. And, since you’ll be the one responsible for making, breaking, and fixing the code, a project is the perfect way for you to cut your development chops.
Your online course is almost certain to include a few projects. In Skillcrush Blueprints, your learning is centered around projects and challenges, like building your online portfolio, a WordPress website for a client, or a weather app using Ruby. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to do some of the classics, like FizzBuzz, guessing games, or to do lists. If not, you can always work on them on your own. And, whether or not you’re required to, you really should do at least one or two projects of your own choosing - either something you need (like a website for your own business) or maybe your own version of a popular website or app. This is your chance to both try out what you’ve learned and take your learning to the next level.
Bonus tip: Show off your work to the world! It’ll give you a huge confidence boost to share it with your friends and family. And, if you put it on social media, code sharing sites, or your own site, you can get the attention of potential employers or clients. (Read: Get a job by showing your work!)
9. Stick with it
Just like Facebook wasn’t built in a day, tech professionals aren’t made overnight. It won’t last a lifetime, but getting your foundation in tech takes time and hard work. Every great designer or developer was also once a beginner like you. And, even if won’t happen instantly, the end result (in-demand skills and a career you love) is SO worth it!
Keep these points in mind and try to keep the focus you worked on in tip 6. Try to stay on pace with your course schedule as much as you can, and then come back later to tougher concepts. But, if you really need to, reach out (see tip 5) rather than falling behind or giving up. Even though you’re learning from your living room, you’re not in this alone!
Bonus tip: Avoid comparing yourself to others when you’re learning. Even your classmates will learn different things at different times. And, while it’s good to have role models and high ambitions, don’t look at what your tech idols are doing and think you don’t measure up. They were in your virtual shoes not long ago. If they can do, so can you!
10. Have fun & take care!
If you’re like a lot of budding techies, you live and breathe your passion. You stay up late tweaking the line height of your site just one more time, and you contemplate if-then loops in the produce aisle of the grocery store. But don’t let your love of tech rule your life. Having other interests and activities will make you a better coder by broadening your way of solving problems and will make you a more well-rounded potential employee or freelancer that people actually want to work with and, most importantly, that your friends and family will be happy to live with! And, if you want your tech journey to continue for years to come, you have to take care of yourself - and no one can do that but you!
So, go have some fun! If you just can’t resist the lure of tech, try enjoying the creativity of others on Dribbble or CodePen or more of those podcasts in tip 6. If you crave contact, go to a meetup or take part in a hackathon. Of course it’ll be a chance to learn and network, but, hopefully, it’ll mainly be a chance for you to relax and have a good time. And make time for some non-tech too. See your friends, spend time with your family, and find ways to get offline on a regular basis. We promise the Internet will be here waiting for you!
Bonus tip: Two of the biggest secrets to success for your online learning (and your future career and life) are two of the easiest and cheapest: exercise and sleep! You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again - but that’s because it’s true! You’ll be incredibly more efficient and effective, not to mention healthy, if you make sure you get out and about every day and get enough rest every night.