Upskilling in tech: online courses vs books vs in-person learning

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Today’s post comes courtesy of Mikke Goes Coding, a platform that helps beginners learn in-demand tech skills and leverage their coding and web development portfolio to start a career and achieve more freedom in life. Readers will find the best beginner-level resources, discover proven learning strategies and learn how to build a professional portfolio so they can land their dream job in tech.


Learning tech skills is easier than ever these days. Helpful online and offline resources and courses allow anyone to upskill or start a new career as a developer without spending years in college. 

But while it is easy to acquire new skills in technology, knowing where to start can often feel confusing. With online courses, bootcamps, learning groups and books to choose between, finding the best resources to support one’s learning style can quickly overwhelm any beginner.

Where should you start learning? What resources can help you upskill fast and avoid wasting your time and money on things you don’t need? 

And most importantly, how can you learn the right skills that allow you to land the tech job of your dreams?

Depending on your learning style and on how much money you’re willing to invest, you want to narrow down which learning methods and resources are right for you. 

To help you get started the right way, here are the pros and cons of three popular ways to learn tech skills: online courses, books and in-person.

Online courses 

Pros

1: Huge selection

The most significant advantage of online courses is that you have a massive selection to choose from. Knowing the best websites for learning coding and web development, you can easily find beginner-level online courses to learn virtually anything. And as your skills improve, you can proceed to more advanced-level material to further enhance the skills you want to specialize in.

2: Self-paced learning

If you want to learn tech skills while studying or working full-time, you need the opportunity to learn at your own pace. With online courses, you can access the material anywhere, anytime and on any device. If you have a busy schedule, you can dedicate as much time to learning as you can—whether it’s during the week or on weekends.

3: Flexible schedule

Upskilling in tech is a great way to boost your employment opportunities. But it’s also a powerful way to prepare for a transition into an entirely new role or industry.

However, when you’re working full-time, you can’t take several weeks off to attend a coding bootcamp or spend hours every evening with a learning group.

Luckily, online courses allow you to find a learning schedule that fits together with your job. If you’re working 9 to 5, you can easily set up a weekly learning plan with dedicated time slots for online learning whenever it suits you best.

4: Affordable and accessible

The demand for skilled web developers continues to increase faster than the average for all occupations. Hence, you could achieve a lucrative salary without spending a single dime on college tuition.

Now, the best thing about online courses is: 

You can start learning tech skills at a very low budget—or even for free. 

Especially if you’re entirely new to coding, it’s a good idea to try a few different tutorials before spending any money on a paid course. 

Also, if you’re not sure which tool to learn and specialize in, free online courses are your best chance to try out different options.

Join Seen for free to get matched to a role where you can flex your tech skills

Cons

1: Lack of guidance and support

When you start learning to code, you will have a myriad of questions to ask. If you have someone to answer them right away, you can save heaps of time and learn much faster.

Having said that, one of the most significant shortcomings of online courses is the lack of personal support. Most courses provide a forum or community where you can connect with your fellow students. But it can be challenging to get a hold of the instructor or an experienced industry expert.

2: Difficult to check quality beforehand

If you’re new to learning tech, the seemingly endless abundance of courses can quickly feel overwhelming. Every popular learning platform promises quick results, expert-led tutorials and a solid stepping stone to the career of your dreams.

Hence, when you’re ready to invest in your first paid online course, how can you make sure it’s the right one for you?

With most courses, you have the chance to watch a few introductory videos for free. Make sure you use them to meet the instructor. Do you like their teaching style? Are the lectures easy to follow?

Also, remember to check the ratings and reviews from past students. And finally: double-check if the course offers a money-back guarantee before you purchase anything.

3: Getting stuck in a cycle

With so many online courses to choose from, wouldn’t it make sense to take several courses on the same topic? 

After all, it could help to learn another point-of-view on things with additional tricks from multiple instructors?

Although it may feel like a good idea, starting another course right after finishing your first one could harm your learning curve. As soon as you learn the basics, you should start practicing and applying your skills to simple programs, scripts, and projects of your own.

Therefore, choose a course that covers the topic thoroughly enough. That way, you can start practicing with small projects on your own when you finish your lectures.

Books

Pros

1: High quality

The biggest advantage books have over online courses is the quality factor. Any programming book out there needs to convince potential readers to make a small investment. And if the quality isn’t on point, the book will never leave the shelves.

Typically, popular tech books are written by respected experts in their fields. Not only do they know the ins and outs of the topic, but most of them are trained teachers, too. Therefore, the content is usually easy to follow, including practical exercises and small projects you can build as you go.

2: Great for future reference

When you’re new to tech, you want to gather a pool of high-quality resources for future reference. As you build projects on your own, you can speed up your workflow by using a familiar book for help.

Say you want to learn web development and build a website project from scratch. If you can grab a beginner-level book from your shelf to find best practices, you can finish your website faster.

3: Easy to track your progress

Having a book in your hand makes it easier to see how far you’ve come already. This is a massive advantage over online tutorials and courses where you go through video lectures and exercises of different lengths one by one.

Thus, if you prefer to have something tangible in your hands to track your progress, using a book could be the right choice for you.

Cons

1: Comparatively expensive

The main disadvantage of books is the price. It takes a lot of work to produce and publish an entire book, after all. However, any quality product comes with a price tag. You are essentially making an investment in order to learn from the best.

Hence, you want to double-check the content of any book you plan to purchase. You want great value for your money: well-structured theory chapters, practical training exercises and real-world projects to support your learning.

2: Size and weight

If you choose to use books to learn tech skills, you will quickly have a small library at home. And while most tech books cover an entire topic thoroughly, you need a few of them to have enough material for larger, more demanding projects in the future. 

3: Relatively quick deprecation

A printed book is like using a snapshot of how that specific tool worked and was used in the past. But as the world of tech develops continuously, the information in books can deprecate relatively fast.

If you want to make sure your book will be helpful and valuable for years to come, focus on books that cover the fundamentals of a specific language, for example. HTML, CSS and JavaScript are popular, in-demand skills for front end web development that have remained virtually unchanged for several years.

In-person learning

Pros

1: Immediate help and faster learning

When you’re new to learning tech skills, you will run into problems and questions all the time. With in-person learning, you will have someone by your side who can answer your questions right away. In short: you will get just the help you need just when you need it.

Moreover, you will hear questions from other students, too. They may be about essential points that you have overseen or didn’t think of yet.

All in all, guided learning with coding bootcamps, learning groups or personal tutoring can help you learn faster.

2: Connect with other students easily

Coding bootcamps and study groups are perfect for connecting with other like-minded students. You can quickly find people with similar interests, discuss difficult topics and find solutions to common problems as a group. This can help you grasp the bigger picture and learn different ways to solve problems more efficiently.

3: Allowing more creativity with projects

The best way to learn tech skills is to build practical projects on your own. When you are just starting, they will be very small and simple, of course. But as your skills improve, you can tackle more complex projects and create useful apps, scripts or web pages that make people’s lives easier.

With in-person learning, you can be more creative with your project ideas because you have someone to guide you through it. Therefore, it may be easier to tackle larger project ideas sooner than if you were using online tutorials or coding books.

Cons

1: Price

Having a tutor or a teacher to guide you will cost you money. Because essentially, you are paying for someone’s time. And when it comes to experts in tech, their time is valuable.

Attending a coding bootcamp, for example, is a significant investment. If you feel like in-person learning is the best way to achieve your goals, you may want to try personal tutoring first. And if you want to save even more money, try to find a study group and team up with other students in your area.

2: Not available everywhere

When it comes to coding bootcamps or tutoring groups, it may be difficult to find one in your area. Of course, it all boils down to the specific skills you would like to learn.

3: Impossible to check quality beforehand

If you are going to invest $10 – 20K in a coding bootcamp, you want a fair return on your investment. However, checking the quality of a bootcamp can be tricky. 

How can you make sure the teacher knows what they are talking about? Will their teaching methods support your learning style?

In general, in-person learning will require just as much effort from your side as books and online courses do. Hence, attending a coding bootcamp is simply a guided learning path where you have an expert to support you along the way. But it doesn’t mean it is a shortcut to landing your dream job.

How will you keep your tech skills current?

Knowing how you learn best is crucial to keeping your tech skills up-to-date. When you understand the methods and resources that support your learning style, you can stay confident throughout the entire process. 

Also, it will be easier to focus on picking up the right skills to boost your career.

Remember, now is the perfect time to upskill in tech and boost your value in the job market. Although the myriad of learning resources may feel overwhelming at first, don’t let the opportunity pass you by because you think it’s too difficult to get started.

Whenever you’re ready, go ahead and start with a free beginner-level tutorial. If you’re not sure what skills to learn, start with web development basics: HTML and CSS. They are easy to learn, and you can use them to build your first website from scratch faster than you expect.

As your skills improve, simply be mindful of what learning strategies help you make progress faster. If you see an online course, a book or a guided study group or bootcamp that aligns with your goals, go for it!

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