Everyone Needs to Learn to Code
Coding is a critical skill these days, and not just for web developers. Whether you're building a personal website, assembling a professional portfolio, creating a blog, or contributing to an online publication, knowing even the basics of coding can go a long way. Of course, if you've ever tried to learn how to code—and I've taken many a course over the years—you know that it can be a frustrating and overwhelming process. Online learning programs can make the education process less intimidating, enabling you to move at your own pace, seek help when you need it, and repeat lessons as needed until you have a real grasp on how and why your code is working the way it does.
We looked at a wide variety of online schools aimed at different age groups and skill sets to find the best coding classes. Here's how to find the best online coding class for you.
Look at the Price Tag
Price is always a concern, no matter what you're buying. There are subscription-based programs such as Code Avengers, Treehouse, Safari Books Online, CodeHS, Code School, and SitePoint (formerly Learnable) that offer access to all classes in the course catalog for a monthly or annual fee. Check to see if the program lets you pause your membership, which is helpful if you want to save your progress without racking up fees while you're away on a trip or too busy to access the classes.
Lynda.com features classes on every topic under the sun, as do similar general education services not featured here such as Coursera, edX, and Udemy, and there are more than enough coding options to make a subscription or individual purchase worthwhile. But if all you care about is coding, you might be better served by a program specifically tailored to your needs, especially if you're willing to pay.
Codecademy, on the other hand, offers all of its courses and materials for free, though it charges a monthly fee if you want to access quizzes and other learning tools. Paid classes generally offer more in the way of course depth, breadth, and presentation, but if you're determined and resourceful, you may find that free classes are sufficient for your needs.
Variety of Courses Offered
After price, the most important thing to consider is how many courses are offered and the variety of topics covered. Some offer straight HTML, CSS, and other Web technologies, while others offer classes in advanced languages like Python and C++, mobile app and video game development, and working with APIs. In terms of the sheer number of courses, paid classes usually have the edge over free ones. But a huge library can also be overwhelming, so starting off with a smaller, more-focused program is also a good option.
The course format is worth paying attention to as well. All you really need to code is a functional text editor, and most of these programs feature one of those. Depending on your learning style, you might appreciate the more-polished video tutorials of services like Khan Academy and CodeHS.
Many of these online coding schools, including Lynda, SitePoint, Code Avengers, Codecademy, and Treehouse have started offering curriculums, so you can choose a broad topic—similar to choosing a major in college—and then access all the necessary courses you'll need to master the topic. This serves to both organize your studies and enable you to skip ahead if you've already mastered some skills. Treehouse even offers a structured certification program.
Ease of Getting Started
If you're a beginner, you need a program that's easy to dive into and keep up with as the material becomes more complex. Actually, that's something that's ideal for learners at all levels. You'll also need encouragement to keep you going. Most of these services offer badges or other rewards when you hit milestones, and show your progress on your dashboard. The best services offer quizzes and challenges so you can test your skills. Testing isn't just for beginners—even experienced programmers want feedback on how they are doing. Newer programs also like to treat progress like a game, rewarding students with shiny badges as they level up their skills. You won't find these features in all programs, though.
However, if you're serious about pursuing coding as a career, eventually you'll need to ditch the easy stuff and take on some more challenging material. Consider switching to a paid program like Code School, Code Avengers, or Treehouse to continue your coding education. On the other hand, Free Code Camp will help you take the knowledge you've learned and use it to help a real-life nonprofit organization.
Something for the Kids
If you're a parent or teacher, getting kids to code also makes sense. Programming teaches kids to think logically, develops problem-solving skills, and improves how they interact with technology. And it can prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow. CodeHS has special features educators can use in the classroom and a wonderful sandbox mode that students can use to express their coding creativity.
Other programs like CodeCombat treat coding more like a video game, so kids will definitely stay interested. Coding is just another way to make cool things they can show off, which means kids of any age can learn to code. CodeCombat and Treehouse offer special pricing and curricula for teachers and students.
Moving beyond the scope of this particular roundup, Youth Digital goes even further with gaming, teaching coding (and animation) as an important part of its game-design curriculum. Youth Digital's tutorials are pricey, but the lessons are robust and teach kids how to make everything from 3D platformers to 2D sidescrollers to animated movies to Minecraft mods.
Speaking of gaming and kids, Hopscotch, Scratch, Move the Turtle, Daisy the Dinosaur, and similar apps treat coding like a video game, keeping the interest of even very young kids. With coding, as with any kind of language, the younger you can start learning, the better.
If you're an educator interested in other ways technology can help your school, check out our list of the best learning management systems.
Help and Support
Finally, you need help when you get stuck on an exercise or a quiz. We like services such as Treehouse and Codecademy, which offer active student forums to help you work through problems and get a second eye on long blocks of code. Code Avengers now has live chat available, and an exclusive Slack channel. Support for bugs and website problems, which most of these services offer in some way, is also key. Some communities encourage you to create a GitHub account, so you can easily collaborate on code with fellow students. While Lynda and Khan Academy are excellent generalist services, they can't offer this level of coding-specific help and support.
All of these considerations depend on your level of skill. You may not need a lot of handholding, in which case you can download eBooks and teach yourself by signing up with SitePoint, or you can dive right into a new language with Codecademy.
Not sure where to start? Most of the paid services here offer a free or low-cost trial or even a money back guarantee. You may try several online coding classes before you find the right fit. For more check out 7 Cool Programming Tricks Inside Microsoft Notepad and 9 Cheap and Easy Ways to Learn How to Code.
Featured Coding Program Reviews:
Lynda.com From LinkedIn Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Lynda.com is an outstanding resource for video-based, online learning, particularly if multimedia software or coding skills are what you need. The price is attractive, considering you get unfettered access to all the courses in Lynda.com's catalog. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Codecademy makes learning to code fun and rewarding, and offers plenty of help along the way. Read the full review
Khan Academy Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% With a growing repository of free tutorials and exercises, Khan Academy enables tech-savvy learners, particularly U.S. K-12 students interested in STEM fields, to supplement existing knowledge and to explore new topics. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Treehouse is fun to use and easy to follow for budding coders. Just keep an eye on costs, since you're paying month-to-month. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Whether you choose to pay for it or not, CodeHS is a great place to start your coding education, and a great tool for schools to integrate into their curricula, too. Read the full review
Code School Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% If you're willing to pay to take your coding education to the next level, Code School is an excellent choice. Read the full review
Code Avengers Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Code Avengers is a great tool for learning programming, and its wide selection of courses make a subscription worthwhile. Read the full review
Free Code Camp Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Free Code Camp offers a plethora of coding lessons along with opportunities for actually applying those lessons in the real world. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% SitePoint has a wide range of classes and ebooks about coding, but it's not as fun as competing services. Read the full review
Safari Books Online by O'Reilly Media Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Safari Books Online offers hundreds of quality courses, but it's pricey and doesn't have robust support. Read the full review