How badges and achievements can make learning fun

Once upon a time, before blogging was popular and Twitter even existed, I used to learn PHP. I had my books, I had my LAMP setup, and I had an expert at code sitting not too far away. There are various mentions of it on this site, until at one point, I gave it up in disgust. I had ambitions beyond my ability, and more importantly, beyond my patience. When it comes to learning code, I understand and enjoy the logic but get bogged down in the detail. My syntax often fails, even if I have all the right bits in the right order.

I haven’t really looked at code for a long time, in recent years I’ve been far more focused on creating content whilst someone else does all the difficult backend work. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but I must admit, the new Codecademy project has captured my imagination. The mission is simple – get more people interested in coding. The execution is brilliant. Step by step exercises reward you with points, and completed lessons gain you badges. There is nothing quite so motivating as unlocking a new achievement – so many games work on this premise.

The site itself is new, occasionally buggy, and still working out the kinks, but the creators are approachable, they have a good Twitter presence, and the lessons are very well done.

I’m working my way through them when I have a spare five minutes at the end of any given day, and I’ve just completed the Hello, New York module. That was a simple five-step exercise that followed the mechanics of working out how much a taxi ride will cost. Giving real life examples helps make things an awful lot clearer and it was much more fun.

I still have my syntax trouble, and I still require the additional bit of help from my expert, but this time I have no grand ambitions and that makes the whole thing less stressful. There’s a new lesson launched each week, and I can’t wait to see how the project develops over the year. Perhaps by this time in 2013, I’ll be the one coding Sidepodcast.

5 thoughts on “How badges and achievements can make learning fun

  1. I did notice you and Mr C tweeting about Codeacademy, so I gave it a go too. It certainly helped me make more sense of JavaScript.

    What I like about it is that, unlike most books, it doesn’t make assumptions about your knowledge, it’s practical, and most of all, it’s uncluttered so you only do one thing at a time.

    And if it makes you feel any better, it’s rare that my PHP syntax doesn’t have an error first time round – the trick isn’t getting it perfect every time, but understanding the most likely cause of each error message!

  2. It sounds really promising. Coding was the worst part of the computer studies course I did at college, could understand the concepts but never put something together which was original.

    I’m working on a project now.. well I was, I’ve not touched it for a while because of exactly what you say of yours, ambition above ability/patience. Maybe this will help.

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