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).


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.


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.