Online coding courses: what's the difference between instructor-led and self-taught?



A teacher cannot teach. A learner must learn. The role of the teacher is to guide the learner through their learning.



Do you want to learn Python online? Should you find videos and websites to teach yourself? Should you find and instructor-led course? Or perhaps a mixture of both?


When it comes to learning coding, there is more than one route. Teaching yourself is one option, as it is for every other subject we learn, whether it is Maths or English or Science. But as with all of these subjects, the guidance and structure provided by an experienced teacher and a well-designed curriculum can make a big difference.


The challenges when learning how to code

One of the challenges early on when learning coding is to understand what is really important about the subject. Many beginners or all ages focus on learning commands and learning methods to create loops or conditional statements, say. These are important tools when coding, but they are nowhere close to the most important thing to learn early on.


Programming, a preferred term to coding, is a mindset. The earlier a learner grasps how to think in the 'programming way', the easier the subject will be. The key is to learn how to break down our thoughts and ideas into logical steps in a way that a non-intelligent computer will understand. This is the area that can be harder to grasp without guidance.


Another key difference between learning by yourself or through an instructor-led Python online course is the ability to ask questions. This is true for every subject. In coding it is even more relevant as a single small error or bug in a program, no matter how small, will cause the whole program to fail. This means that you cannot carry on coding until you solve this problem.


The areas a beginner needs most help with, without knowing it

A key part of teaching coding is guiding students to learn how to deal with errors; how to find them, understand them and fix them. This is not always straightforward. The job of an instructor is to first and foremost help students learn how to solve these problems themselves. The interactions between instructor and student are essential in this process, as an experienced teacher will adapt how they help the student based on those interactions.


By far the most common gaps we find in self-taught students are those around using coding best practices. This comes in the form of areas that students often fail to understand why they are important (commenting and naming, for example) and in coding styles that work for basic programs but that can lead to problems later on. An instructor should never force students to change the way they code, but instead highlight how and when these bad practices can cause problems.


Dealing with the depth and breadth of coding

There is one more area which requires a lot of discipline when learning independently. Coding is a vast and extensive subject and once the basic areas have been covered, there are various different branches to follow. Without guidance, students often stick to their comfort zones and do not explore other areas of coding. The role of a teacher is to make sure students learn coding in a broad way, using different styles of coding and methods, and working on different types of projects.


Does all this mean that students shouldn't try to learn by themselves? Absolutely not. We return to the thought we started with - a teacher can guide a student, only the learner can learn. The best approach with coding is the same we use for teaching every other academic subject. A teacher sets out the curriculum and helps the students understand the key areas of the subject, but the student needs to put in their own work and explore the subject. A teacher will inspire and enthuse the students, and challenge the students to reach new heights.


With coding, students need to write code, encounter problems that they try to solve while knowing that there is someone they can ask.

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