How I Navigate Online Learning

Lessons I’ve Learned Along The Way


Online learning. All you need is a device, the internet, and a desire to master something new. I get the convenience of getting an education while sitting in my home office, at 2 a.m., wearing jammies. Online learning is a less expensive alternative to a bootcamp or college, neither of which I can afford.

I’m sure my fellow autodidacts can relate. We want to continue upskilling, but not with the same price tag as college, which some of us are still paying off.

However, there can be a dark side to online learning.

The completionist in me wants to take and finish all of the course-ware I have accumulated. Some are paid resources, others are free. Most of it is web development, UX, or content writing related.

I think the following suggestions would apply to any online learning path. For this blog, I’ll focus on the topic of development.

I’ve discovered, like with poorly written books, there are poorly made learning resources out there. I used to struggle to finish the occasional — not so exciting or well-written — book. Why? It wasn’t like it brought me happiness. I merely felt compelled to finish what I started.

Same with learning to code.

It is important to note, I’ve not been learning to code to be a developer specifically. Not yet anyway. I’m more of a hobbyist, expanding my technical skills to optimize how I do things at my current job, and I am working towards a career pivot.

Initially, when I started my learn to code journey, I was overwhelmed with all of the resources out there. Even when a course wasn’t a great fit for me, learning-wise, I was still determined to get through it.

Sometimes resources are flat out inadequate or antiquated. Other times they are merely taught in a way that isn’t conducive to the students’ needs.

Look, everyone’s learning needs are different. The trick is to find what works for you, not forging through something for the sake of finishing it. Otherwise, you waste time better spent on something more useful.

I’m going to tell you a secret: “Sometimes, it is ok not to finish.” You have my permission to stop what you are doing and reassess.

You’re welcome. :smirk:

Giphy: Awkward

Don’t feel guilty or beat yourself up. Consider if what you are doing is beneficial? Providing value? Do you need to reevaluate and shift direction? Is this too hard? Is it too easy and you need something more challenging?

Leverage your time into something that is going providing value, not frustration. Yes, you are going to have moments of frustration when encountering the new and unfamiliar. What I mean is the importance of getting the most out of a resource.

Here are a few key things that might help anyone who may be struggling with or new to online learning:

Photo Pixabay

1. Just Because it is Free, Doesn’t Mean it’s Useful

Before the online equivalent of pitchforks, torches, and townsfolk come after me for my aforementioned statement, let me clarify. I know developers who have created some of the most incredible, most helpful resources I’ve ever had the good fortune to get for free.

There is a reason they have a huge, cult-like following. Examples: FreeCodeCamp, CSS-Tricks; podcasts like Code Newbie & Learn to Code With Me; along with a slew of people who provide tutorials on YouTube like Traversy Media (aka Brad Traversy) & Dylan Israel.

In the same breath, I’ve enrolled in courses that were confusing and crudely made; no resources or source links corresponding with the content, poor audio or video quality, vague descriptions, or no explanation as to why something is coded this way or that.

While I want to learn about a particular topic, I don’t need to struggle through an inadequate resource to do it. I do not waste my time anymore trying to glean something helpful when I can move along to something else with more value.

Value, to me, is high-quality audio and video, clear and concise information, source links, project introductions with walk-throughs and explanations, layering information in a logical order, access to others who are taking the same course (Slack or Discord), an instructor who makes an effort to respond to questions within a reasonable amount of time, etc.

I’m a visual and kinaesthetic (hands-on, project building) learner. I aim for these types of resources. If you know your learning style, aim for content favoring this method.

You don’t have to pay for quality resources. Some will even let you audit their course for free. I will say there are some inexpensive ones on Udemy and EDx worth investing in.

* I get no financial benefit from recommending these courses. I am not a paid advertiser or employee of Udemy. They are courses I paid for, took, and found value in.

2. Too Many Options Will Make You Feel Overwhelmed

You don’t need 12 tutorials on how to code in HTML5.

I recently went through and archived or deleted course-ware I know I will never take, or I’ve outgrown skill set-wise. Archiving gets it out of my line-of-site and allows me to focus on what I need to do next.

I suggest making a list of the courses you would like to take and in what order. There are a million list apps, right?

Read reviews and reach out to others on social media and ask for suggestions. Twitter and Reddit topic specific-communities are great.

Narrow down your focus, build on your foundation, and stop allowing yourself to get distracted by the newest and shiniest thing.

Prioritize. Then re-prioritize when you’ve outgrown a subject and move along to something more challenging.

3. Some Resources Are Going to Be Out of Date

Sometimes a course will be posted and never get updated, or a newer version will be available elsewhere.

When you are trying to learn something, like web development, many of the concepts can become outdated quickly. I recommend researching when a course, video, or article was published online, and when it was last updated (if at all) before you invest your time (and in some cases, money).

In terms of course-ware, there is no harm in contacting the content creator and asking if they intend to modernize it. Otherwise, there are more current resources out there.

4. Consistency

Consistency is key to mastering a new skill. Sure, life will get in the way. We have jobs, kids, friends, and emergencies. But you need to prioritize your time.

Sure, I’m just as guilty of spending my weekend binge-watching an entire series of something on Netflix. But if you want to learn something new — something that could enhance your career or give you a path to a new one — it is worth sacrificing your Saturday and a few hours each weeknight to your studies.

5. Set Reasonable Goals

You are not going to learn everything you need to know in a matter of hours. It is highly unlikely you are going to complete an online coding bootcamp in a week and retain anything if you do. In coding, you need to understand foundations; the syntax, how languages work with one another, with different browsers, best practices, tricks, etc. It takes time and practice for these concepts to sink in.

You will find yourself less frustrated if you set small, attainable goals and build upon them. Do you want to learn HTML5 in a couple of weeks? Yup, that is possible. Want to learn how to create a functional website, coded front to back, from scratch? Y-e-a-h that might take a little more time and work.

Better to break down these goals into bite-sized pieces. Plan your project in stages with sensible milestones. Each week, set a small target, something marking a degree of progress.

The only person you are in a race with is you. Do not compare yourself to others you see online who announce they’ve finished a 12-month bootcamp in six-months and just got a developer job. You have no idea what their background is. They could have been unemployed the entire time; have preexisting tech knowledge; someone else paying bills, and no kids.

Just remember, there is no greater satisfaction than surprising yourself, doing things you never thought you could do. Your hard work will pay off.

Best of luck with your online learning journey!



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Megan Charles

Megan Charles

Technophobe Who Codes | Writer | “Egalitarian”-Feminist (redundant, I know) | True-Crime/Forensics Enthusiast