Adult Coding Classes vs Coding Bootcamps vs MOOCs

Liz Eggleston

Written By Liz Eggleston

Jess Feldman

Edited By Jess Feldman

Last updated on November 9, 2023

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Do you really need a coding bootcamp to make a career change? Or can you take a coding class at the library or an online MOOC and do it yourself? All three focus on teaching tech skills, but there are some major differences between these paths – career services, support, teaching style, and intensity just to name a few. Let’s explore these differences and which is best for you!

Definitions: Adult Coding Classes vs Coding Bootcamps vs MOOCs

First, we’ll clear up the definitions of these 3 related paths:

What is a Coding Bootcamp?

Coding bootcamps are intensive, accelerated learning programs that teach beginners digital skills like Full-Stack Web Development, Data Science, Digital Marketing, UX/UI Design, Cybersecurity, and even Machine Learning & AI. If you’re looking to make a career change in ~3-6 months, then a coding bootcamp is your best bet. 

What is an Adult Coding Class?

You may find an adult coding class at a public library or a community college. These are typically low-cost. If you’re just looking for computer literacy classes or to get your feet wet with basic coding, then one of these coding classes could be a great first step!

What is a MOOC? 

A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a pre-recorded, usually free class that hundreds of students attend. If you can learn on your own with no interaction with students or instructors, then a MOOC could be a good option. The most popular MOOCs are Introduction to Computer Science and Learning how to Learn. The good news? MOOCs typically cost $0. The not-so-good news? There’s very little built-in accountability, so completion rates are notoriously low. 

Difference #1: Comprehensiveness of the Curriculum

  • Adult coding classes are usually a la carte classes. Expect to learn one skill like “Intro to Python.” MOOCs like CS50: Introduction to Computer Science by Harvard are typically pre-recorded, so it’s tough to dig deeper into a specific topic with an instructor. 
  • Coding Bootcamps are highly structured to teach you everything you need to know in order to get your first job in tech. You’ll start with pre-work to learn the basic building blocks of software; then you’ll learn front-end and back-end development. Along the way, you’ll nurture your soft skills like group work, communication, and pair programming that employers look for in new hires. 

Difference #2: Career Services + Support

  • Coding classes and MOOCs are ideal for individuals who are looking to expand their knowledge, perhaps to support their current job or for personal interest. The outcomes are varied and won’t include preparation for a job. The onus is on the student to make the most of the class and seek out additional help if needed.
  • By definition, Coding Bootcamps are career-oriented and aim to prepare students for a job in the tech industry immediately after completion. They often have ties to tech companies and a track record of students landing jobs. mentorship, career services, interview preparation, and sometimes even mental health support due to the intensity of the program.

Difference #3: Hands-on Project Based Learning

  • If you’d like to pursue a portfolio project after a MOOC, you’ll likely be on your own. There are collaborative communities like Kaggle that you could use to find group work. 
  • At a coding bootcamp, collaboration and networking are heavily emphasized, and there's a strong focus on building a portfolio of practical work. Expect to build several group and individual projects using different programming languages, and even to deploy those projects. Most coding bootcamps also host a demo day where students present their final projects. Here are a few real projects that bootcampers have built using JavaScript! 

Difference #4: Intensity

  • Adult Coding Classes tend to meet once or twice a week over a few months. The pace is slower and attendance typically isn’t mandatory. Most MOOCs last a few hours
  • Coding Bootcamps are intensive and immersive, often running full-time for ~14 weeks. They aim to teach a significant amount of material in a condensed time frame, which can be demanding and requires a significant time commitment. Most bootcampers describe the experience as a full-time job!

So which option is best for you? After talking to hundreds of successful bootcamp alumni, I’ve discovered that most begin with a free class like a MOOC or an adult coding class. Once they realize that programming is interesting work to them, they invest in a coding bootcamp to actually make their career change. 

About The Author

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston is co-founder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students choosing a coding bootcamp. Liz has dedicated her career to empowering passionate career changers to break into tech, providing valuable insights and guidance in the rapidly evolving field of tech education.  At Course Report, Liz has built a trusted platform that helps thousands of students navigate the complex landscape of coding bootcamps.

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