How badges and achievements can make learning fun

Published January 28, 2012

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.

Codecademy badges

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.

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