Choosing the proper online resource: Lynda vs Treehouse vs Code School

This is a guide written for my old designer-ish site in 2013.

Posted on Aug 10, 2017

With all of the online courses teaching similar subjects, it’s difficult choosing the right school. Like Colleges, these different services have their own ways of presenting material and testing you to see if you understand it- if they test you at all. They all use videos as a way of presenting the material, but they all take different routes with their videos.

This guide aims to help you choose the courses that are right for you. Each of these schools feature a range of classes and some of them offer extra content in addition to their course videos and quizzes. From documentaries to conferences, ‘extra’ content is great when you need a break from learning to write code but still want to stay in the creative mindset.

For this post we will be comparing subscription-based resources. The cost of these subscription-based services are significantly less than a formal classroom education and some may argue these services can teach you a particular skill set just as good, if not better than formal education. While the certifications or badges you receive through these schools wont hold as much credibility as a degree from an accredited university or institution, they will give you the means of creating better websites or apps to put in your portfolio.

Lynda

“Learn software, creative, and business skills to achieve your personal and professional goals.”

I discovered Lynda as a student attending a University, and it proved to be a a great compliment to formal classroom education. Using Lynda to teach you software and production allows you to focus more on principals and foundations of design/development. I’ll be the first to admit, there are still tools in every Adobe application I’ve rarely– if ever used. But thanks to Lynda, I know how to use them when the time comes, and if I don’t, I know how to look them up.

If you’re a verbal/visual learner, you’ll find Lynda to be a perfect match. They focus more on presenting content to the user, and not quizzing them to test their newly acquired skills. If you upgrade your monthly (or annually billed) subscription, you can gain access to the exercise files to follow along with the videos. From personal experience, I would recommend upgrading to the premium subscription on Lynda if you are learning anything to do with Web design/development. While you can get away with the “Popular and affordable” plan to supplement your understanding of software, once I started to dig into HTML/CSS/JS I needed to follow along with the project files. Each lesson has a zip file containing the exercise files at the beginning of the lesson and the finished files, which is a life saver.

Lynda has a range of different instructors from their respective industries to present material they are passionate about. The videos typically start with them walking you through the exercise files and an overview of the subject (which is nice in programming if you are wondering what something is/does), then the instructor presents slides and walks you through the subject. When watching videos on coding the instructors usually quickly type code and tell you what they are doing while they are typing, then run the code and show you the result. Since there are no quizzes after you watch one video, you go straight to the next. It’s your responsibility to make sure you understand what they’ve just told you. To some people this is fine, but to me it’s very frustrating. I learn by writing and breaking my own code. I still use Lynda because they have such a huge catalog of videos and they bring you up to speed on topics very quickly.

Treehouse

“Treehouse teaches the in-demand technology skills you need to land your dream job or build a startup.”

I found Treehouse through a co-worker that told me about Think Vitamin. I was googling Think Vitamin and was coming up with TeamTreehouse links. With a little research I found out the Carsonified/Think Vitamin guys were behind Treehouse and decided to give it a try. They offer different ‘tracks’ for learning different subjects. There most popular tracks are become a Web Designer, Web Developer or iOS Developer. Most anyone can pick up these tracks from square one and be able to follow along with the videos. An existing knowledge of the material wouldn’t hurt, but these courses are really great for new students.

After you choose a track, you’ll be presented with the first video of the first course in your track. Once your done with the video, you’ll then have to test your knowledge of what you just learned. It’s helpful to not skip these quizzes because the next video may build upon the knowledge you just gained in the last video. I was surprised when I was taught something and I thought I understood it, then when I wrote code of my own it would’nt run correctly. Videos are so easy to follow along with when the instructor is telling you what to do and why it’s working, but the real learning comes when you write it yourself then hit the Check My Work button and your code actually runs correctly. It’s a good feeling. When you’re done with the course, you’ll receive a course badge and points for each quiz to show off on your account.

If you’d like to see extra content, you can upgrade your subscription from the basic Silver to Gold. Upgrading to Gold gets you an online seat to conferences and workshops. Which is pretty awesome considering if you visit a conference and a workshop a year it will probably come pretty close to the annual cost of a Gold subscription. I’ve personally never had a Gold subscription, but I’ve always received the notifications that a new conference was posted and was very tempted to upgrade.

Code School

“Code School teaches web technologies in the comfort of your browser with video lessons, coding challenges, and screencasts. We strive to help you learn by doing.”

I found Code School when I was on the jQuery site, and saw try.jquery.com. The videos are laid out in a very direct way. I learned a lot about jQuery and things were presented very quickly. The code wasn’t being typed out, but instead it was displayed behind the keyed-out presenter while they were breaking down the chunks of code for you. Sometimes I had to watch parts of the video 2 or 3 times to fully understand what was going on and how things were running but I liked that when I did understand what was happening they didn’t explain it 2 or 3 more times for the people who maybe didn’t understand it yet. The pause button is your friend if you don’t understand what is happening and need to break it down for yourself.

The quizzes on Code School give you a set of instructions and you have to type them into the file. The instructions are phrased like someone is coming to you and telling you what they need done in a project, which is kind of cool. Most of the time, the file is already laid out for you and you are adding what you just learned into a file. If you get stuck their are hints, or if you submit incorrect code there is usually a dialog box that shows up with helpful information on how to correct your code. Code School supports the “learn by doing” way of understanding and implementing code, which for my style of learning is great. They make sure you understand the code by making you use it over and over again which can get really repetitive but you understand what you are doing a lot better.

Code School has different paths you can take for Ruby, JavaScript, HTML/CSS and other electives. On your way towards completing your path, you’ll earn points and badges until you achieve master status of your path. In addition to the courses, code school also has screencasts. The majority of these screencasts are for Ruby and JavaScript/jQuery, but they also have other subjects as well. They are usually pretty short and right to the point.

Conclusion

I’m not sure I can say which service is better than the other. Learning is subjective and everyone has different preferences. All three of these resources are more than capable of teaching something you want to learn. While Code School and Treehouse are more for learning design/development by writing your own code, Lynda has design/development courses with hundreds of other courses with thousands of total videos. If your serious about learning you should subscribe to at least one of these services. The first course you complete will leave you feeling more confident in your abilities and will help to make you a better designer/dev.

I have subscribed to all 3 of these and have learned something with each of them. I’m currently bouncing back and forth from my Treehouse and Code School accounts. I’ve learned that after I watch and do the challenges on one of the sites, I can go do the challenges on another site. There are usually a few new things I learn and the extra practice doesn’t hurt either. When it comes to learning and understanding something, doing things the long, hard way is beneficial if you have the time.

I can’t give any word to any of these resources customer support because I’ve never had to use them. I’ve had very few hiccups with the videos not playing right, or getting some errors but they are always resolved very quickly. I’ve never experienced probblems that lasted longer than a half hour.