Why 72% of Codecademy Users Never Finished

Why they didn’t finish. And what we can learn about learning.


I’ve spent eight years in the ed-tech space, working on Microsoft OneNote, digital textbooks, and crowdfunded student loans, so you could say I’m a student of students. I’ve also dreamed of starting a company. So as you can imagine, I was one of the millions of people who resolved to learn to code, and in 2013 I signed-up for Codecademy.

Apparently I was one of the few who actually finished. In a recent survey of over one hundred Codecademy users, we found that 72% of the people who started Codecademy never finished.

Why didn’t they finish?


It’s the same reason that researcher Richard Wiseman says 88% of New Years Resolutions fail — we are social beings, and we are more likely to achieve our goals when we socialize them.

Five years ago, I set out to lose fifty pounds — or 24% of my body weight. It was depressing, emotional, stressful, and is still something I struggle with today. I succeeded, but not through finding some amazing source of willpower. And not thanks to some magical iPhone app. I succeeded through a holistic and methodical program designed to tackle three areas that lead to long-term, sustainable behavior change. It’s these same three areas that we need to apply to successfully help people learn to code:

  1. Setting specific, accessible goals
  2. Participating in a community that supports us
  3. Reviewing progress regularly with someone who holds us accountable

Set Specific Goals

let’s start with goal-setting. Rather than saying “I want to lose weight,” decide to lose 2 pound per week for 10 weeks. It’s harder to quantify learning-to-code because there is no one single path — people have different outcomes they are looking for — which is why you need an outcome-based approach to learning. So rather than “I want to learn to code,” decide to get a web development job. Or become an entrepreneur.

Now make them even more specific by setting a deadline. “I want to get a job as a developer, in 10 weeks, starting January 1st.” Immediately you’ll see a roadblock: you’ve got a vacation scheduled right in the middle. To affect real change, you need to be able to say no to distractions. Not forever, but for a specific period of time, which means making the goal specific.

Have a Community for Support

They say that making your goal public in your community of friends and family can increase your likelihood of success by about 10%. And having the support of peers on the same journey is said to add another 15% to that. In a recent Harvard study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that social networks play a significant role in obesity, and that programs that modify a person’s social network are more successful than those that don’t.

We can apply this same logic to any life-change. There’s a social pressure that accompanies publicly stated expectations. We can harness this force. I encourage all our students to share their projects with friends and family.

Review Progress With a Counselor

We all need accountability. I know I’m much more likely to show up to the gym when a friend (or a trainer that I’m paying) is waiting for me. I could watch an assortment of YouTube videos about weight-loss, but paying for a service creates accountability on both sides — I’m holding the trainer accountable for outcomes, and she’s holding me accountable for showing up. And with something as personal and emotional as switching careers or losing weight, it’s easy to let emotion and frustration creep into our choices. An outside, objective coach can bring you back to basics: are you showing up every day? Are you putting in the time required to see results?

At Bloc, we see how critical the accountability factor is to sustained, long-term change, which is why Bloc students meet with their mentor three times per week, for twelve weeks. If a student misses appointments, or isn’t doing the work in-between appointments, we drop them from the program and refund their money.

So to all those that dropped-out of Codecademy, I say this: start with your goals. Make them specific. Find a community to share the journey with, and find someone who will hold you accountable.