Treehouse: Learning to Code

With so much of our information being pushed to the Web, not knowing the basics of web coding is going to become more and more of a hindrance. If you don’t know what a h1, h2, or blockquote is you’re going to find yourself at a severe disadvantage in the future.

While there are plenty of ways to learn the basics of coding, one interesting solution that has just come into the scene is Treehouse. With videos, tests, and badges, will Treehouse allow you to finally learn what you need to be learning?

On Plans and Pricing

Treehouse isn’t a free solution. I was unable to even find a real trial for the service (you can look around a bit, but that’s hardly a trial) so you’re really taking a chance with your wallet when you decide to sign up. There are two payment tiers: Gold and Silver.

Treehouse's page, detailing the two plans available.

Treehouse's page, detailing the two plans available.

Gold, at $49 a month, is the more comprehensive of the two. Besides giving you access to the training videos and badges (more on that in a bit) you also gain access to complete project videos and conference videos.

To contrast, the Silver plan is like the standard basic plan; you have access to the core aspects of the service, like videos and badges, but you don’t get complete project videos or the conference videos.

Premise: Badges are Motivators

The essential part of the learning experience within Treehouse is earning badges. There are multiple badges available, based around Web Design, Web Development, and iOS Development. Within each of those badges is more badges, and within those badges there are, you guessed it, more badges.

My profile, focusing on learning CSS (web design).

My profile, focusing on learning CSS (web design).

It’s clear that Treehouse is taking the gamification approach to learning very seriously. Gamification is, essentially, the notion that you will complete something if there’s a visible reward involved; this is much the same as when your first-grade teacher would put a star next to your name if you answered a question correctly.

Whether this approach will work is up to you. Treehouse does say that large companies will be looking to hire people with certain badges, but I can’t speak to the truth of that statement.

Earning Badges: Videos

Everything that you can learn within Treehouse is presented in a video format. They all begin the same way: a Think Vitamin animation–which is confusing, as this is the only place that Think Vitamin branding appears–followed by a talking head and then a screencast.

Treehouse will give you the subject of the videos underneath their containing badges.

Treehouse will give you the subject of the videos underneath their containing badges.

Videos are helpful, and they come with Closed Captioning for those that might be hard of hearing or don’t speak English. The technical information contained in the videos is accurate, though there were some inconsistencies between the at least one video and test, so stay on your toes.

If one were looking to learn the basics of coding these videos would be helpful, provided their ability to stand the speakers. At times I found the voices to be a bit on the grating side, and would have preferred a professional voiceover artist to narrate the videos. This all comes down to personal preference.

Earning Badges: Quizzes

At the end of each mini badge there will be a quiz. Instead of grading you on a sliding scale, Treehouse decides that you need to meet a certain ‘streak’.

Let’s say that Treehouse wants me to get five questions in a row correct. If I were to, say, only get three in a row, the entire counter starts over. While this is fine in theory, in actuality it lead to a bit of frustration as I couldn’t think of the answer to a question and was forced to cycle through the same set of questions in order to take another stab at it.

This is what you get for finishing a quiz.

This is what you get for finishing a quiz.

I get the idea behind the quizzes, though; instead of saying to someone that they fail, it’s easier to tell them that they need to cycle through, buckle down, and hit that positive streak. This comes back to the gamification; make the tasks a bit more tedious with a bigger reward and people are more likely to remain engaged.

Earning Badges: Challenges

Challenges are where the fun really begins. Instead of having you answer multiple choice questions, Challenges will require that you actually write code to solve a problem.

Working on one of my first Challenges.

Working on one of my first Challenges.

The built-in editor works well enough, and it’s fun to actually work on something that feels like it has some practical use. The idea is that from your videos and quizzes you’ll know how to properly code for the Challenges.

I would have preferred it if Challenges were made more central to Treehouse, forgoing quizzes for Challenges. Writing code makes it stick in your head far more effectively than watching someone else write code.

A Beautiful Mess

Despite all of the good, Treehouse has more than its fair share of the bad. While the videos were good, I found that they were stuttery at times both when I was at home (which is to be expected, as I have to connect via DSL) and away from my home office, where videos from other sites loaded without any issues.

You would think that this would be solved via the transcripts that Treehouse provides, but downloading the transcript as a .srt didn’t help at all. Not only was I not able to open the file with any default application on my Mac, I was unable to find an alternate download. I see no reason why the transcript couldn’t be provided as a plain-text document (or, hey, Rich Text).

Conclusion

You have to have a clear goal in mind when you’re signing up for Treehouse. If you want to learn something specific about coding (say, how to create a navigation bar that stays at the top of the screen even when a user scrolls) you’re probably going to be out of luck.

If you want to learn the very basics, though, Treehouse is a good way to start. I think that the plans are overly priced for what they’re teaching, but that might be because I was already familiar with the basics.

In short: Treehouse is solid but not perfect, and you need to be aware of your own intentions before you sign up.


Summary

Treehouse is a service that offers to teach the basics of coding for web design, web development, and iOS development through a series of videos, quizzes, and challenges.

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  • http://www.heymonkeydesign.com Lenny Terenzi

    I am also very familiar with the basics but I think the price is spot-on for the wealth of information you can get. Additionally I never have video issues.

    I would like some more advanced and specific topics though. That would be a nice additions and I think they are coming.

    So far I am pleased!

    • Nathaniel Mott

      Yeah, that was my main issue with the application. Maybe it depends on how many people are logged on, or the ISP that I happened to be using. I’m glad that you haven’t had video issues, though.

      As soon as some more advanced videos are released I’ll be more impressed. I’d still like to spend more time writing code and less time watching videos, though. There’s a delicate line to walk there.

  • http://itibz.com Tibz

    Treehouse is bringing a student plan soon at 9$/months. And a group discount is going to available soon as well, i believe!

    Thanks for the review: I submitted my details for the student version and am excited about this!

    • Nathaniel Mott

      The student plan sounds terrific. That’s where I can see this really helping; a student that isn’t satisfied with their own courses, or might be interested in web development but taking a different major, etc.

  • xangria

    Writing HTML is not coding. It’s good to know, but not coding.

  • Jen

    How does this content compare to the free Code Academy site?

  • http://www.homelifecarinsurance.co.uk HLC

    $9 a month sounds more reasonable to me for what they offer. I’m also signed on for Code Academy and when I worked ahead to lesson 4 I couldn’t get past it, there seems to be an error but maybe the kinks are worked out by now.

  • Tim

    I don’t think this has as much value as Lynda.com

    • John Curry

      Lynda.com pisses me off. I got completely stuck doing exactly what they told me, and sent them several e-mails trying to resolve the issue and it’s been over two weeks. I quit and am trying to find something else.

      I’m amazed at how these “Tech startups” with all of this funding produce absolute crap for the user.

      Codecademy’s run button doesn’t work. and the other things I’ve tried are not impressive considering these people that are good enough to claim they can teach code, yet their site lags and is un-usable. Hopefully Treehouse will work

  • http://www.radiopay.com Good stuff, however….

    Good stuff, however I think that not many people would desire to put those badges on their sites, especially if they are building their brands.
    Besides, I would recommend you to make an interactive course of learning PHP. That would be a bomb. :)

  • Garry

    Just signed up for Treehouse and i digg it. The videos are easy to watch and understand. Been trying to learn CSS; this makes the process so much easier and less intimidating. Lynda isn’t too bad, but i like how Treehouse breaks it up into different paths, so the knowledge is present systematically. As per the cost, you get what you pay for. I’m comfortable with spending 25bucks/month. If i can spend that and more for a night out, hells yeah i’ll spend that for personal development.

  • uncleenzo

    I’ve gone through the basic website design, and am now doing the next project: Responsive Web Design. After this one I might quit.

    This is horrible. “I’m just going to copy and paste some code in” then they don’t show you the code or tell you what it does. I’m trying to follow along here, people.

    Then after I scrub back and pause the video so I can see what was pasted in, I realize that the CSS that was added won’t actually do anything to the website I’m following along with, because the IDs being used aren’t even in the index.html file yet and apparently one of the IDs name has randomly changed. So, when she says refresh your browser and it will look like this… it doesn’t. I figured out how to make it work myself but that’s not what I’m paying for.

    Overall my two day experience has been this: For a quick gloss over of general ideas, Treehouse might be OK. But there hasn’t been enough quality explanation to actually learn something you have no experience with. If I didn’t already know HTML and CSS I would have been stuck back at making a basic website, which they claim is for absolute beginners.

  • Dave

    I’ve been using it for a few months. I love it! If anyone is thinking of joining feel free to use this link and get 50% off your first month! http://referrals.trhou.se/davidmoore

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