Best Practices When Teaching Yourself To Code

Because of the immense array of online (and offline) programming learning materials and resources, the information required to teach yourself to code has never been more accessible. But with so much information and so many options of coding classes for beginners, it’s important to determine the best practices that will set you up for success as a beginner.

Instead of asking, “how can I teach myself to code?” ask yourself... “How can I teach myself to code well?”

For that there are 5 best practices:

  1. Find what works and be open to adjustments
  2. Keep the pressure (and stress) off
  3. Determine the right educational course
  4. Play an active role in your education
  5. Discover your motivation

#1 Find What Works For You (And Be Open To Adjusting It!)

The best part about learning programming on your own? Freedom.

Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, learning styles and preferences. When teaching yourself, you have the freedom to adjust your process accordingly, in order to achieve the best results. 

You get to decide where, when, and ultimately how you learn.

However, it’s also important to realize that what might work well for you in other disciplines may not be the best when learning programming concepts, and vice versa. Keep the things that work and adjust the ones that don’t. In essence? Keep an open mind as you start your journey in computer science. Remember, you are starting as a beginner!

#2 Don’t Put Pressure On Yourself To Get It Right Away

Learning anything new—especially a complex skill such as coding—is bound to present many unique challenges. Understand that this is a natural part of the learning process, and work through it with patience and compassion for yourself, rather than with frustration or self-doubt. 

This is key to a healthy learning environment. In fact, stress and frustration can be considered “anti-learning.” Stephen Krasher, professor of linguistics, looked at neuro-imaging visualizations of students’ brains when learning under the destructive nature of stress. He found that, simply put:

“If students are stressed out, the information cannot get in. This is a matter of science.”

Remind yourself that this task could be challenging for anyone, and the mere attempt to learn a coding language is admirable. If you get stuck on a coding obstacle, here are some ways to de-stress and get back to the fun of learning a programming language:

  • Take a walk – The first rule to solving any tough coding problem? Step away from the screen and get the blood pumping. A simple stroll around the block might give your brain time to rethink the solution.
  • Make a healthy snack – It’s hard to learn when your stomach is distracting you! Grab a light snack of cut-up fruit and veggies. Avoid anything that makes you feel groggy.
  • Follow the breath and count to ten – Your yoga instructor was on to something when they said “listen to your breath.” Turns out, counting your breaths up to ten is enough to lower stress levels and give your brain a reset.

#3 Find A Course That Fits Your Needs

Just because you’re teaching yourself a new coding language doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from educational programs and resources, specifically those that allow you to learn at your own pace and in your own way. This applies to teaching coding to kids, as well!

When you choose the right tool, you set yourself up for success. But what should this data science tool look like?

The Material Should Be Broken Up Into Digestible Chunks

Instead of jumping right into a four-hour tutorial, or signing up for a week-long intensive coding bootcamp where you eat, sleep, and breathe programming, start with something manageable. Each lesson should be between half an hour to an hour. This creates digestible chunks that are better suited for your brain to absorb, allowing you to comprehend what coding is used for in each scenario.

This length of each coding tutorial will allow you to:

  • Take breaks at a natural stopping point – With shorter individual lessons, breaks will be built into your routine at the conclusion of each topic or module. You won’t be forced to pause mid-sentence for dinner, only to forget everything before you return. You won’t lose track of time and sit through hours of dense material before realizing you weren’t properly retaining any of it. 
  • Digest the information you just learned before receiving more – Taking a break to think about and process the lesson is extremely important for long-term memory retention as a programmer. In fact, in a memory study done by the National Institute of Health, volunteers who took rest periods between rote tasks had an easier time consolidating and solidifying the information presented to them. This suggests that breaks aren’t just helpful to the learning process, they’re critical. Your coding program should take this into consideration.
  • Determine your ideal schedule – You know yourself—and your learning habits—better than anyone. Do you work best when you can sit down and focus exclusively on coding for five lessons in a row? Or do you prefer to squeeze in a quick 30-minute lesson here and there, before school or after work? Know thyself, then choose a tool that lets you learn the valuable coding skills at your pace.

The Material Should Be Entertaining and Engaging

Who says learning has to be boring? It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t be! 

Find a programming course that does more than teach you hard skills by incorporating fun, interactive activities that engage you in a variety of different ways. The more you enjoy the process of learning, the more likely you are to stick with it and achieve the results you want. 

This is especially important when it comes to learning a new coding language and improving your skills. The completion rate for most online coding classes is below 10%. There are plenty of reasons why: tedious, dry material being one major factor.

#4 Play An Active Role In Your Learning

Reading about coding is valuable and you can pick up a ton of information that way. However, the more active you can be, the more you’ll retain the information you’re trying to learn. 

This could include:

  • Taking notes (handwritten is even better)
  • Games and activities that involve programming languages
  • Hands-on tasks or projects

Experiential learning and practical application of computer science skills will solidify the concepts in a more concrete and meaningful way.

The Importance of Practice 

Imagine a surgeon performing an operation after merely reading about the human body. Or a painter who only looked at art without ever putting their brush to the canvas. Or a starting quarterback who never threw the ball in practice before their first big game. 

You get the picture! That would be like “learning” how to code without ever actually coding. 

After reading, watching, or otherwise learning a lesson, be sure to apply those theoretical ideas to a real-world equivalent. This works best when you can complete the specific task you just learned about, step-by-step, with assistance as needed. 

Check Your Answers To Learn As You Go

When teaching yourself a new skill, you become the teacher as well as the student. And how do teachers measure the success of their students?

They test them. 

There’s nothing more frustrating than working through a difficult problem only to realize you have no way of figuring out if you did it correctly or not. Maybe you were right, but now you aren’t confident in your process. Or maybe you learned a valuable skill incorrectly without even realizing it. 

Testing yourself and your understanding is an essential part of your learning journey. It allows you to:

  • Repeat the process you just learned, thereby solidifying each step
  • Determine whether or not you’ve fully understood the programming concepts
  • Identify your mistakes in order to correct and actively learn from them

#5 Find Your Own Motivation

It can be easy to complete something when there are external motivators or consequences. When teaching yourself to code, it’s essential to figure out ways to stay motivated without these outside forces. 

Ask yourself the following:

  • What will I get out of coding? – While coding itself may not be the reward, there are likely prospects and opportunities associated with this newfound skill in data science. Are there projects you’re excited to complete that require coding? Is there an opportunity that is only available to you if you can code? 
  • How will I feel once I have completed this? – Even if there’s nothing specific on the horizon, completing a new task and acquiring a new skill can be incredibly rewarding. Remember the last time you tried something you didn’t think you could do, and how fulfilling it was to prove yourself wrong. You will also be equipped with a helpful understanding of the difference between coding and programming languages and how to apply each for your future success.
  • Why did I decide to learn coding in the first place? – Sometimes, all it takes to reignite that fire is returning to the original idea that sparked your decision to learn coding. You had a reason to start, and therefore, you have a reason to keep going. 

Transform your journey with coding from a tedious to-do list into a magical, engaging experience that is both educational and enjoyable.

Teach Yourself To Code With Disney Codeillusion

The right learning tool is the perfect aid for any self-taught coder. Disney Codeillusion combines the core components of a good educational program with the experience of Disney:

  • Truly comprehensive programming – Created by a host of industry experts, Disney Codeillusion offers 125 lessons, covering Game Development, Web Design, and Media Art in four primary coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Processing). 
  • A blend of education and entertainment – Disney Codeillusion combines in-depth curriculum with the exciting adventure of a role-playing experience alongside some of your favorite Disney characters. 
  • A “no-stuck” learning experience – Disney Codeillusion does more than provide information. The coding experience creates an interactive environment that guides you through the process of programming, with detailed step-by-step directions. When you need a little extra guidance, simply ask your Disney friends to reveal a hint that will get you moving in the right direction.
  • Custom goals to keep you motivated – With the overarching goal of teaching yourself to code, Disney Codeillusion provides mini goals along the way to track your progress and maintain your motivation.
  • Freedom! – Disney Codeillusion provides you with a self-paced, self-propelled learning experience that you can use to your advantage. With each lesson averaging 30 minutes, choose when you practice and for how long, in a way that suits your lifestyle.

Now that you know the steps to set yourself up for success, dive into the magical realm of Disney Codeillusion and put these best practices to use as a beginner programmer!


Edutopia. The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning.

NIH. Want to learn a new skill? Take some short breaks.