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  • September 20, 2012

If you could learn anything, what would it be?

This can be absolutely anything. Go ahead and think about it for a minute. I recently posed this question at my dConstruct talk (slides / audio) a couple of weeks ago and received a variety of answers. Learning a new language was a popular response. So was learning how to cook, garden, ski, and do “The Robot.” Decorative Illustration

Right now, the web is exploding with online learning tools. Have you always wanted to know more about astronomy? Academic Earth has you covered. Need to know how to clean your bike chrome? Snap guide has a guide on that. Short on time? 5min has tutorials that are all five minutes or less. Learn better live and in person with other people? Sites like Skillshare help you find local classes.

In the digital world, this year has seen a pronounced interest among people from all walks of life in learning how to code. Even the Mayor of New York City expressed his desire to get his geek on.

Some people love the idea of code education. Treehouse recently announced it would offer some of its online classes for free.

Others are not such fans of this movement. Please Don’t Learn to Code and Codecademy and the Future of (Not) Learning to Code cite a variety of reasons why some think this movement is nothing more than a meme.

As an educator, I love the increased interest and access. While thinking about how I tackle these issues for the students in the Girl Develop It HTML/CSS class I teach, I created a set of guidelines to design my course:

1. Set Realistic Expectations. Make it clear to my students that they won’t learn everything there is to know in a 15-minute online tutorial or a two-hour intro class. The value of that experience is to help students diagnose if they are truly interested enough in the subject to go further.
2. Identify Trustworthy Resources. If, after that intro, my students do want to know more, it’s important for them to know where to go next. Results from online searches can overwhelm beginners looking for reliable information. Sites like W3Fools can help identify coding resources that provide accurate materials.
3. Focus on Real Use Cases. In my class, students work to build a basic personal portfolio site. A problem-based learning approach motivates students and teaches them new material within the context of solving a real problem. I prefer this method to an information-based approach, which focuses on recalling knowledge from lectures.

I think it’s super neat that there are so many different solutions out there and available for us. If we want to learn something new, a search of the Googs can easily open the door to getting started immediately. When I asked people about the one thing they would learn, one person told me that they wanted to learn Italian. Last week, he started.

I’d love to know what the rest of you chose as well. If you feel so inclined, leave your answer in the comments and then get to learning it!

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