One of the coolest things about tech skills is that you can learn them from just about anywhere from weekend workshops to online coding bootcamps.
What you don’t need is to sit in a classroom for 3-plus hours every week (per class!), and listen to a professor who may or may not have actually worked in tech in the past twenty years. And you definitely don’t need to go back to school fulltime to learn lucrative tech skills. If you want to learn to code, all you need is a computer with Internet and maybe a software program or two.
But that doesn’t mean you’re 100 percent ready to enroll in an online coding course. There are some questions you need to ask yourself before you decide if learning to code online is right for you (it probably is! But I might be biased…), and more importantly, what kind of online class is going to be the most likely to lead to success.
There are online subscriptions, mentorship programs, resource libraries, and everything in-between.
And there isn’t a single right way to learn to code online. While one person might need a structure and schedule to stay on track, another person might want unlimited access to move at her own pace.
If you’re not sure how to decide which online course is right for you, then ask yourself these fifteen questions to get a better handle on the kind of learning environment you need to be successful.
General Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do you know your learning style?
There are so many different ways to learn. Some people learn only by doing. Others learn by reading things. Others need to see someone else do things and repeat them. And then there are the people who learn really well by word-of-mouth instruction. Some people can even learn in more than one way!
The great thing about online learning is that you can pick a format that will work best for you. If you learn really well by diving in and doing things, then tutorial and project-based formats (like we have at Skillcrush!) will work great. If you learn by reading things, pick up a book or read a ton of articles. Spend some time thinking about how you learn best, and then look for a program that will cater to that style.
- Can you self-motivate?
Most online classes are at least somewhat self-directed. That means you’ll have to keep yourself motivated to actually do the work, study the lessons, practice the techniques, and get the most out of your course.
That said, some courses (like Skillcrush Blueprints) are flexible enough to allow you to work whenever you want, but structured enough to keep you on track. For example, you’ll get an email every weekday telling you exactly what to do that day and what to learn next. In addition, the Blueprints come with an online community of other people learning the exact same stuff you are, so you can stay motivated to keep up with your cohort.
This is where a paid course can have an advantage over free resources out there. If you’ve paid for it, you automatically have a bit more incentive to actually complete the class compared to free resources out there (where you’re not really losing anything if you don’t do the work).
- Can you balance coursework, life, and work?
Many online courses can fit into your busy life. But if you’re already stretched way too thin, you may have to look long and hard at whether you can handle a few extra hours a week to devote to studying.
Figure out where your priorities are, and see if you can find the time (Skillcrush’s Career Blueprints generally take less than an hour a day to complete) for learning to code.
- Can you prioritize an online course?
If you’re not sure about whether you have the time to spend learning to code, look at whether you can prioritize learning to code over some of your other commitments. Maybe you skip your morning workouts for a while (or watch your class videos while you’re on the treadmill!). Or maybe you take public transportation to work instead of driving so that you can study on the train.
The key here is to figure out if learning to code is important enough to you to make some adjustments in other areas for a few months. Remember: This isn’t a permanent change! You can go back to your routine when your courses are done.
- Why do you want to take an online course?
One of the most important questions to ask yourself is why you want to take an online course. Maybe it’s because you don’t want the rigidness of an in-person class or can’t fit it into your schedule. Maybe you’re like me and local options are limited (or non-existent).
Beyond that, though, what’s the purpose of learning to code for you? Is it for a new career? Is it to advance in your current career? Do you own a business and you know tech skills would make you more successful? Or is it just something you want to learn for the sake of knowing how to do it?
Getting to the root of why you want to take an online course to learn to code is important to figure out which course is right for you, because that’s what will keep you motivated.
- What are your career goals?
Knowing where you want your career to end up in a year, five years, or ten years can be key to decide which online class is right for you, or whether you’d be better off with something in-person or even just some tutorials.
For example, if you know you want to be a web designer, then taking a formal online course (or a few) can help you learn skills and gain confidence in your abilities. If your main goal is to learn some tech skills to support your other career goals (like you’re in marketing and would love to know how to customize an HTML email template in case your developer isn’t available), then finding a class that fits those goals is a great option, as is looking for online tutorials to show you how to do what you want to learn.
The point is that spending thousands on an in-person bootcamp or other intensive program doesn’t necessarily make sense. Just like trying to learn everything completely on your own with a few tutorials when you want to change careers can be a very long, very difficult road to success.
Finding the Right Online Course
- How much time can you invest?
There are many different levels of commitment when it comes to taking online tech courses. Some are entirely learn-at-your-own-pace with no set schedule or reminders. Those can be great if you’re really good at self-motivating, but not having any structure around timing can be hard to manage for some.
Others have more of a “schedule” (even if it’s flexible) but don’t require a huge time commitment. These are the classes you can do in a few hours a week (like Skillcrush’s Career Blueprints).
Still others are almost like going back to school fulltime, and generally require a time commitment of at least a few hours per day.
- How much money can you invest?
I’ve already hinted at this, but there are HUGE differences in the amount of money you can spend learning to code. There are some great free resources out there for those who want to learn but just can’t afford to spend any money. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are courses that cost tens of thousands of dollars, and can rival tuition costs at private colleges.
In the middle are courses, like Skillcrush Blueprints, that require an investment of around a few hundred dollars. These are generally affordable, and balance the level of instruction and personal attention you get for the value of what you’re learning. They can be an excellent first step or an intermediate step between learning completely on your own with free resources and spending thousands of dollars (and potentially going thousands of dollars into debt).
- Do you need to work at your own pace?
Some online classes have very rigid schedules. You get assignments with strict due dates, and can even lose access to some (or all) class resources after a certain date. These can be a great option if you need a ton of structure or set deadlines to keep yourself motivated.
Then there are those online classes that have no structure whatsoever around pacing. You can finish all the lessons in a single week, or take the next three years to figure it all out. These can be a good option for people who aren’t sure if learning tech is even right for them, or who have crazy variable schedules and can’t make time commitments in advance.
And then there are those online classes that fall somewhere in the middle. There’s a recommended schedule, and possibly some reminders or lessons that are sent out on a regular schedule, but you have flexibility to complete the work more quickly or slowly than what’s recommended if you need to.
- Can you work independently?
Some online courses are very independent, and you have little-to-no working interaction with other students. These are great if you love to work independently, but can be hard for those who prefer to work with others.
There’s no right or wrong answer here, it all just comes down to how you work best.
- Can you work well in groups?
Just like some classes are very independent, others really focus on working together in a group. If you work well with others, be sure to find an online class that gives you that option, or at least has things like student discussion boards.
- Do you want or need a lot of guidance and a hands-on instructor?
Some online classes are pretty much the equivalent of independent study. You either get no instructor input, or the only way to reach an instructor is to email them. If you’re totally cool with studying on your own, that’s awesome.
But if you’d rather have access to an instructor regularly, and be able to ask questions at things like office hours or in a class chat room, then be sure to find a program that offers those things. (::cough, like Skillcrush::)
- How comfortable are you with online discussions?
If you’ve never really participated in online discussions, then this can take some getting used to. You should be comfortable asking questions when you need help, and also helping others without belittling them, being condescending, or otherwise being unhelpful. Online class discussions are not to be confused with the comments section on a YouTube video.
Be sure that you’re comfortable participating in online class discussions if they’re part of the program you’re taking. And if you’re not, then you may be better off seeking out a program that doesn’t include them.
- What kind of learning environment do you need?
If you need to be in a classroom to really learn, then you’re not going to get as much out of an online class (thank you, Captain Obvious.)
But beyond that, can you create an environment that will work for you to learn? If you need a completely quiet, distraction-free space to learn, do you have that? If you need some time away from your kids to learn, is that possible? Or if you need to get out of the house entirely to learn, is there a coffee shop, library, or other space you can use?
Think about where you want to learn, and then decide if you have access to that kind of environment.
- Does your computer meet tech requirements?
Here’s another one that’s kind of obvious. Before you enroll in any online class, make sure that your computer meets the tech requirements for the class! That also means making sure you have the software you need to do the work, whether it’s something free or paid (and that your computer can run those programs).
There’s nothing more frustrating than being ready to dive into your first day of class only to find out that you can’t do a key part of it because your computer just isn’t up to par.
Taking all these questions into account will prepare you to make the right choice when it comes to learning to code online…and if you have any questions about what a program includes, you can always reach out and find out before you sign up.
Image credit: CC by Dino Latoga