One of the ongoing, and seemingly never to end, debates that is going on in tech circles is the constant antagonism between free software versus structured software, especially when it comes to a sensitive topic like educational technology.
Sitting comfortably at your desk, or with a laptop on your lap and your legs on the coffee table, what exactly is the best way to learn how to code from home?
While coding bootcamps tend to widely endorse the use of free, open source technologies in the acquisition of basic coding knowledge, there is a belief that it quite simply isn’t for everyone, and for many others, it simply lacks the emphasis on commitment and engagement that an investment inspires. If a student finds a structured educational technology that caters precisely to what they wish to learn, and offers them the calibre of content they need to advance professionally, it is very much a case of an investment. However, this investment is the furthest thing from acquiring volumes A-Z of the Encyclopedia Brittanica from. This investment is for acquiring access to engaging, structured, in-depth content that facilitates personal or professional advancement. That investment… is for accumulating dust and impressing your friends.
For many, the format of free educational software often lacks the face, the voice, but most importantly, the depth and quality of content. With structured educational software, while naturally, you may pay a little more for access, a student can save enormously in terms of time and progress.
With structured educational software, there is an underlying emphasis, almost an ideological commitment, to providing quality, in-depth learning. This is partially to compensate for the fact that it must cope with physical learning environments as competition.
It’s also partially due the fact that, realistically, not every computer science or programming lecture can be given by a tenured professor, or a practising software engineer, or a UX Developer from Silicon Valley, or any other number of members of the technology sector with a voice, as well as a deep commitment to both learning and teaching.
Learn from 1000’s of kilometres away…
We exist in a digital world, so with the availability and ease of access to verbal, face to face even, communication through a monitor, why would an aspiring coder not exploit that opportunity to stare into the face and hear the voice of an industry expert? Particularly, when many of them are physically 8,000 kilometres away…
It is one thing for a cursor to point and click on a screen, or a document to give you a list of 1 to 10 steps with no further contribution, or teach you how to say ‘Hello, World!’ It’s quite another for an in-depth, face to face video from an industry expert or practising software engineer to tell you precisely what steps to take, why you’re taking them, alternatives to taking them, alternative solutions or avenues of consideration, other available technologies that might be suitable, explaining why it will work or why it failed, while still giving the student the opportunity to challenge themselves- to self-learn. It’s sitting alone with a mentor, and should it become too challenging, their guiding hand is there when you need it.
With technology, it’s vital to be aware of the value of self-tutelage, of independent thinking, of failing and not quite understanding why yet going back to scratch, because in order to succeed, in order to compete in an ever-changing technological environment, not only must you constantly up-skill yourself, you must have the capacity to learn from your failures. One of the issues with free, open source software is precisely how basic it is. More often than not, it’s introductory, and lacks the depth of content and quality of direction that the more structured educational software tends to provide from the very beginning.
In learning from home, as a personal project or curiosity, the coding community widely advocates the use of free developmental software, however, oftentimes, the tutorials and guidance are known to be far too rudimentary.
While there is an abundance of widely available and freely accessible educational software merely a Google search away, it can be very difficult for a potential student, a potential graduate, a potential coder and software engineer, to wade through this ocean of introductions and basic tutorials and find what is suitable for them, to find software that acknowledges their personal ambitions, and provides them with the guidance to achieve just that.
With structured educational software that seeks to further technical literacy, language fluency even, the burden is on the professionals to deliver a learning experience that extends far beyond the basic.