I’ve been working on how to do live online training for close to a year now. After many random problems, missteps, and changes to how it works I think I’ve finally figured out how to teach people online without eating up too much of everyone’s time and resources. I’ve been doing this latest format called Learn Code Live (or just LCLive) for about 4 months and it’s working really well. Today I’m opening it up to everyone, and this blog post will explain what it is and how to join.
I have no idea why people put the TLDR at the end, so here it is. If you’re a junior developer who wants help, someone who’s looking to get into python, or you’re interested in next week’s Python Basics Workshop, then you can sign up for 30 days of Learn Code Live here for $99. The billing system is not recurring, so don’t worry about being charged $99 every month without your permission. Instead, you get a reminder email at 7 days, 3 days, and 1 day before your 30 days are up. If you renew then you get another 30 added on. If you don’t then you’re done and I’m totally alright with that. Learn Code Live is intended to be something you join and leave as you need.
I originally wanted to do a whole school that was online, but I found that online interactive education is simply too time consuming for most people. Overall I found the problems to be:
- Streaming live content is a royal pain and full of all kinds of technical issues (which I’ll talk about in another blog post).
- Most people just don’t have the time to complete work on a rigid class schedule. When they miss one seminar they just give up and don’t bother continuing.
- Interactive chat is terrible for education. People ask terrible questions, are always in a panic, treat the chat like their personal therapist, do more socializing than working on code, and eat up too much time from everyone.
- If everyone is expected to follow a course schedule they start to compete with other students and give up if they fall behind or can’t do as well.
- Everyone has different goals in learning to code and many times just need help with small problems they encounter in their own work.
There were other little things I had to change, but in general these were the biggest wins when it came to improving the experience of online students who are busy. I should make it clear that I’m talking only about people who have limited time to learn to code. These things may work for people who are in an actual class setting.
How I Fixed It
When it comes to teaching busy people online I simply found that chat and a rigid class schedule did not work at all. What I did to fix it is:
- Got better at live streaming. I managed to sort out a ton of technical issues around streaming my own videos. Everything from dedicated audio hardware, to how to edit the videos quicker, to how to stream it to a CDN with reduced costs. I even managed to write my own little (and right now terrible) live chat for during the video, and have videos showing how I wrote the little chat too.
- Got rid of the chat. We were using Discord for a while and I found that the quality of questions and my ability to answer were just substandard. It seems like, if you have access to chat, then you don’t really think about your question much and you don’t try to solve it on your own first. With chat you’ll just run screaming in a panic at the first error and dump tiny one-line questions, forcing everyone to eventually tease out what would have been a single forum post. The chat also required 24/7 monitoring and if I missed someone they would usually just drop off rather than ask again.
- Switched to a forum for announcements and getting help. Programmers use IRC a lot, but if I’m being honest I think the quality of assistance on IRC is absolutely terrible, and I should have realized that would be the same on Discord or any chat. Switching to the forum solved all the problems we had with chat. The quality of questions went up, the quality of answers went up, people don’t have missed messaged anymore, and nobody wastes time socializing when they should be coding. I now believe that highly interactive chat influences students to not attempt to think through their own problems and to rely on other people to do the thinking for them. I also think that trying to give answers to people on chat was way too difficult. The forum simply solves all of these problems.
- Changed to curriculum checks instead of a defined curriculum. In the past I’d lay out a curriculum for people to follow and then do the live presentations to match it. And everyone would be pumped for a week, not listen to anything I told them about slowing down and going at their own pace, and when they fell behind they’d just give up. It seemed a defined schedule just hit all the fear of failure buttons and prevented people from going at their own pace. Now what I do is at the beginning of a month I put up a Curriculum Check post and find out where people are and what they need. I then tailor the next series of videos and topics to hit what most everyone is working on or needs help with.
- Gitlab but less code review. We had a gitlab that I was using to do code review, but the tools in gitlab for reviewing code are terrible. Gitlab is great, but without a way to organize my review queue it was simply too hard to do it efficiently. I found this also made people afraid to ask for help with their code because it has this big label of “CODE REVIEW BY ZED”. Now I give people access to our lab so they can practice storing things in git and using it, and then they can ask me on the forum to look at projects they’re having a problem with.
- Implemented Refactor School instead of code review. I still think students need to learn how to write their code the way someone like me would, so now I do something called Refactor School. I ask for a volunteer who gives me their code, and then I go through it live and refactor it to be what I’d expect. This is similar to sitting with a Junior developer and refactoring their code so they know how to write it. We found that this is a much better way to get feedback on how code should be written and helps them learn some great tricks that I might not have realized they don’t know.
- No set schedule or expectations at all. I mentioned this before but having a schedule or a list of expected tasks simply kills people’s motivations, especially if they’re perfectionists or have a fear of failure. I found that when there was any kind of deadline I would have people trying to finish things off last minute in a massive panic and making all kinds of simple mistakes. They’d also get behind and then beat themselves up over it rather than just keep grinding through it at a slower pace. Finally, they also simply didn’t take the time necessary to learn the materials and study since they were always in a rush. Now, there’s no expectation at all and everyone works at their own pace. We use the curriculum check and we also do a weekly accountability thread.
- Accountability threads. The only goal in LCLive is keep working. Even if you only did 1 exercise during the week, just keep working. To enable this we have an accountability thread once a week where people basically do a standup and explain what they’ve done, what they need to do, and blockers keeping them from moving forward. This is much better than tracking their work and having a schedule as it allows for people with different lives.
What’s in LCLive Now?
Here’s what you get when you sign up for LCLive today:
- 54 videos for a total of 50 hours and almost 15GB in size. You can even take a look at what’s available before you join.
- Many products are developed for the Live students first so you don’t have to buy them. VimSchool is one example where students in Live watched for free and can download it. You can also check out my free TV site at tv.learncodethehardway.com to see other examples of what you get.
- About 2-4 live seminars a week on requested topics from students. You can watch them live and chat with others, or download them after.
- You get the Python Basics Workshop I’m announcing tomorrow. This will be a 1 week workshop to get people started in Python or refresh their Python skills. Even if you can’t attend you can download it later, and then you have 30 days for the subscription so you can get help while you review it.
- Access to private parts of forum.learncodethehardway.com and priority help from me and other people.
- An account on a private gitlab server to learn how to use git, get help on complex topics, and get access to special LCLive projects I publish.
- Advice and help on most any programming topics, not just my books.
What’s Coming Soon?
I’m going to be doing more workshops, a lot more Zed Codes, and focusing on specific trouble spots that I find people have. I’ll also be adding an option to add all of my books to your subscription for an additional cost. I used to include them but it became very confusing to manage so I dropped the price and then removed that option. Other than that I think this mix of features is the best I can do for online training.
Can I See What It’s Like?
Yes, you can:
- Current searchable list of videos published.
- Sample videos on the free TV site.
- The freely open sections of the forum.
How Do You Buy It?
You just have to go to the Learn Code Live Buy Page and purchase it like any of my other books. You’ll receive a special email saying that you bought it and that I have to setup your forum and lab access. After that you can go to the /live/ section of the site to attend the next seminar, and visit the private section of the forum.
What’s Python Basics Workshop?
This will be announced tomorrow, but I’m going to spend next week (August 13-17) doing a special crash course for people who want to get into Python 3. The goal is to get people who are just starting out a way to slam through a “detailed overview” of the book’s contents, with the idea that you’d then go back and spend more time on the exercises. The PBW would also work for people who want to get back into Python and just want a fast way to learn it.
It’s not expected that you’d be a master Python programmer at the end of the week. It’s more that you’d know what’s involved and then can have a realistic expectation of how to do the book from the beginning again. It also works as a way to make you do the work for one week. Here’s how it would work:
- We meet live every morning at 10am EST, Mon-Fri, and go over the exercises for the day. I’m planning on 5-10 each day depending on how everyone is doing.
- After each seminar I hang out in the chat and help people get through the first part of the exercises and get through and road blocks.
- You then go off and do the exercises yourself, and if you miss the seminar then you can just watch the recorded one and then do your work.
- At the end of the day at 3pm EST we hop on chat (and maybe video) to check up on where everyone is at and to answer any questions.
- During the day, as you work, you can ask for help on the forum and I’ll be monitoring it so the response will be fast.