Learning Programming: Online Coding Courses vs Books


updated Jul 15, 2019


So you’re ready to start learning coding? Awesome! Luckily, you won’t have any problems finding helpful resources to get you going. But how do you find the right resources that suit your way of learning the best? That’s what I’m here to help you out with. In this post, we’ll look at two different sources for learning how to code: online coding courses vs books.

Both are extremely popular these days, catering to our different preferences about how we learn new things the best.

Whichever resource you choose, be mindful about how it fits together with your goals. If you’re not quite sure about what you wish to build and achieve with programming, check out my previous post about how to start learning coding. Once you have a clear target, it’s easier to be aware of how everything you learn will come together at the end.

Here are a couple of related posts you might find helpful, too:

Please note: This post contains affiliate links to products I use and recommend. I may receive a small commission if you purchase through one of my links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Finding the Right Resources For Learning Coding

You might be wondering how you could learn coding quickly, easily, and without too much trouble.

To be honest, that’s just not going to happen.

Whatever method you use for learning programming, it’s going to be a long journey. In fact, the less shortcuts you take along the way, the better your skills will be at the end.

So where should you start learning how to code, then?

Should you get a couple of good books to learn a programming language or take an online course instead?

Or should you perhaps combine both resources? They could complement each other quite nicely, right?

All of us have a different way of learning. Most of us like to combine different learning methods and materials.

The bottom line is that there’s no right or wrong with online coding courses vs books. Just go with the resources you feel comfortable with.

Read also: 8 Things to Know Before Learning Programming

Online Coding Courses (MOOCs)

These days, there are more online coding courses available than ever before. If you choose to learn by taking a coding course, you will most certainly not have any problems with finding one.

In fact, what might be more of a problem is finding the best coding course for your personal needs.

The sheer abundance of courses out there can quickly feel overwhelming. Especially, if you are a complete beginner, it is difficult to figure out where to start. Every learning platform promises great quality, quick progress, and awesome results.

To help you out, I have gathered my all-time favorite coding courses in the section Recommended Online Coding Courses For Beginners. They are courses I trust and love, which is why I recommend them over and over again to other fellow programmers.

Alright, let’s dive into the pros and cons of online coding courses!

Pros of Online Courses

#1: Low cost

Many of us don’t wish to spend too much money on our first online coding course.

Luckily, there are more than enough resources out there that are either very affordable or 100% free.

My #1 advice to anyone interested in learning programming is to start by using all these great, free resources available out there. They are a great way of learning more about what coding is all about and what you can create with it.

For instance, Codecademy offers a lot of freely available content on various programming topics. You can easily try out different courses and tutorials and find a topic you find the most interesting.

Also, freeCodeCamp is 100% free. Their learning path focuses mainly on web development. They have an excellent selection of resources that are perfectly suited for anyone with no experience in programming or web development so far.

Related: 8 Great Websites For Learning Coding For Free

#2: Wide variety and selection

These days, you can find an online course for learning pretty much anything you can think of. Anyone can create and publish courses and tutorials online, so there is plenty to choose from.

Whether you are interested in learning the very basics of coding or a certain programming language or in deepening your knowledge and skills, you will always find a course that suits your goals.

Udemy offers the biggest selection of online courses for nearly any topic on this beautiful planet of ours. Whether you are interested in learning the very basics of web development or diving into a specific tech topic in more detail, you will always find a suitable course at Udemy.

As for my favorite Udemy courses I’d recommend for beginners, check out my detailed Udemy Review for the best coding courses the platform offers.

#3: Quick release for new topics

The world of tech is evolving constantly, with new technologies coming and going on a regular basis. They all solve specific problems, allowing developers in a certain field to work even more efficiently and productively.

Generally speaking, online courses require a much shorter timeline than books until they can be published to the target audience. In other words, creating an online course about a new topic takes less time than writing a book, finding a publisher, and actually getting it to the market.

Therefore, when it comes to learning new technologies as quickly as possible, an online course is the best option.

Cons of Online Courses

#1: Sometimes difficult to follow

The #1 language for online courses is English. If English is not your first language, it might sometimes be difficult to follow video lectures and easier to read a book instead. However, if you are motivated to improve your English skills, an online coding course is a wonderful opportunity for that, too!

Therefore, before you invest any money into an online coding course, make sure you can understand what the course instructor is saying. You can usually watch a preview video or two for free, which is a wonderful opportunity to get to know your teacher.

If you’re looking for a suitable online course for a beginner, check out these 5 awesome beginner-level web development courses I love and recommend.

#2: Difficult to check quality in advance

An online course is usually only as good as its instructor is. If, for some reason, the instructor does a poor job with explaining each topic, you can quickly feel frustrated and confused.

Since you only gain access to the full contents of a coding course if you buy it, it’s difficult to check the quality of the course content and structure. Luckily, most learning platforms offer a money-back-guarantee, eliminating the risk for you.

Also, most subscription-based platforms offer free trial periods. For instance, with Team Treehouse, you can get a FREE 7-day trial that gives you access to all of their courses and learning resources.

If you’re not satisfied with what you’re seeing, simply cancel your subscription. That’s what I did a good while back, feeling a bit sceptical at first, but I still haven’t canceled my subscription – oops.

Programming and Web Development Books

Time to have a look at our second type of learning resource in our little battle with online coding courses vs books!

I don’t know about you but I simply love a good book to hold in my hand and to browse through.

There’s something about the tangible nature of books that makes me feel more comfortable and in control. If I see that a book has 400 pages, I can easily track my progress while I read it.

Compared to online coding courses, books definitely have a few awesome advantages.

Pros of Coding Books

#1: Easy to share with others

If you are learning about a topic you wish to discuss with others, having a book to show them is quite easy.

Discussing the topic face-to-face is more difficult with an online course, where you can only see and listen when the video is playing.

With a book, you can see the entire page at the same time or even go back and forth between pages easily.

#2: Possible to read “offline”

I’m a huge fan of packing my backpack on a sunny day and going to the park to enjoy the beautiful weather. Where I live, we don’t have summers that last for 10 months, so I like to make the most of them while they last!

That said, I always take a book with me. Needless to say, it’s usually about coding or web design.

The more comprehensive a single book is, the longer it stays in my backpack for the next trip to the park.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the Coding All-in-One for Dummies book on sunny days this summer – definitely recommended for anyone just beginning with learning coding and web development!

#3: Easy to check the quality before purchase

When you hold a book in your hands at the book store, you can easily browse through its contents quite quickly. Simply flip it open and see whether you like the structure, the design, and the actual contents to begin with.

Also, if you’d rather order your books on Amazon, for instance, make sure you use the Look Inside tool to take a peek into your next book before you order it.

#4: Practical for future reference

If the topic you are interested in is somewhat static, a book is a great source of reference for the future.

At the same time, a book provides you with a nice overview of an entire topic, fitting into your hand. Sometimes it is easier to browse through a book and mark a few pages to view simultaneously than opening several video lectures of an online course.

For example, having a HTML & CSS book on your shelf allows you to check up on a specific tag or syntax rule very quickly. This is especially true if you used a certain book when you first started learning about the topic.

If you’re looking for a good beginner-level book to get started with web development, check out my review on HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites by Jon Duckett. Highly recommended!

I started learning Python using “Python Crash Course” and I still go back to it all the time. I simply fell in love with the book the day I started reading it. It’s so easy to find an answer to a question, since I simply know the book inside out. And since I really enjoyed the little coding exercises at the end of each chapter, I still remember them quite well. So whenever I can’t quite figure out how to solve a problem in a project of my own, I often recall that there was an exercise about that specific topic in the book and go back to it.

#5: Easy to read again for difficult topics

Printed text has one huge advantage compared to video or audio: you can easily read a line as many times as you like. Moreover, you can easily browse through the text on the same page if you need a quick refresher on what you just read before.

With even the most basic topics, I often need to read a paragraph at least twice to really understand it. That’s where a good book certainly does a better job than a video lecture.

Cons of Coding Books

#1: Size and weight

Sometimes I get carried away with buying new programming and web development books. Most of them are quite big and heavy, meaning that they can take up quite a bit of space.

Therefore, if you move frequently, think twice before letting 200 coding books pile up on your book shelf.

#2: Print content deprecates quickly

If a certain programming topic is very dynamic in terms of evolving further, the information in a book can sometimes deprecate quite quickly.

For example, new JavaScript libraries and frameworks used in web development seem to appear out of thin air all the time. They gain and lose in popularity relatively quickly.

Thus, if you are interested in learning a technology that could be “growing old” rather soon, it might be a better idea to go for an online course instead of a book.

Bottom line: Practice, practice, practice!

With all the learning resources available out there, you just simply have to find the ones that grow on you the most.

However, no matter which resource you choose, the most important thing is to build projects. Lots of them.

Building, breaking, and fixing real-life projects of your own are absolutely the best way to learn coding.

Ideally, you will have a future project in mind already when you start learning in the first place.

  • Perhaps you would like to build a website of your own?
  • Or do some data analysis at work or develop your own mobile app, for example?

Therefore, always try to find resources that include plenty of exercises and projects.

Surely, the first exercises and coding challenges in any book or online course are quite simple and straightforward.

However, you should be able to start building larger, more complex projects rather quickly.

Summing it up: Online Coding Courses vs Books

All in all, whether you choose an online course or a book is simply a matter of preference.

Usually, a combination of both types of resources is a good idea.

If you’re completely new to coding and web development, find a free online course to start with before you spend any money on courses or books. I would always recommend learning the basics at Codecademy or freeCodeCamp to see if you really like it.

Once you understand the fundamentals and you feel like programming or web development is your thing, it’s a good idea to purchase a good book or a comprehensive online course about the topic you’re interested in.

I love all the free resources out there, but based on my experience, paid courses are more project-based and hands-on.

And as I mentioned above, there is no better way to learn how to code than building lots of projects. They allow you to apply what you’ve learned, deepen your knowledge, and introduce you to the most recent trends and tools in the world of tech.

Help! How should I start learning coding?

I would suggest the following steps to learn a new programming language. This has been my recipe for success for quite some time now and it works every time:

  1. Start off by using free resources to learn the basics. See if you really like the topic. Would you be willing to spend more time learning it in the future? If not, look into another topic of programming language. The moment you feel intrigued, fascinated, and keen on learning more about something, you’ve hit the jackpot!
  2. Find an online coding course or a good book about that topic. Follow the video lectures and chapters, complete the coding challenges, and dive into real-world projects. And when you’re taking an online coding course, don’t forget to connect with your fellow students!
  3. Build a project of your own based on your new skills. Review everything you have learned so far and put your skills to the test. Have a clear goal and keep your expectations realistic!

Now, we are all different in everything we do, especially when it comes to learning new things.

Therefore, what you should do first is to identify and be mindful about the way you learn the best. Then, focus on finding resources that suit those preferences of yours.

If you learn more easily by watching a video than reading a book, simply focus on finding great online courses instead of books.

Here are a few helpful articles you should read, too:

If you enjoyed this post on online coding course vs books, don’t forget to drop me a line in the comments below! Which one do you prefer? How’s your experience been so far?

P.S. Please share this post with others so that they can find it, too! I appreciate your support, thank you!

I’ll see you in the next article! Happy coding!
– Mikke

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About Mikke

Hi, I’m Mikke! I’m a blogger, freelance web developer, and online business nerd. Join me here on MikkeGoes.com to learn how to code for free, build a professional portfolio website, launch a tech side hustle, and make money coding. When I’m not blogging, you will find me sipping strong coffee and biking around town in Berlin. Learn how I taught myself tech skills and became a web dev entrepreneur here. And come say hi on Twitter!

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