Programming Books or Online Courses: What’s Worth Your Time?


So you’re ready to start learning to code? There are plenty of books and helpful online courses to get you going. How do you find the right resources that suit your way of learning the best?

Software engineering is a competitive and fast-paced market with constantly-emerging programming languages, frameworks, patterns, paradigms, and tools.

In this article, let’s talk about two different sources for learning how to code: online programming courses vs programming books.


Programming Books vs. Online Courses

You want to have programming books and online courses for different purposes:

Programming books are best for introducing concepts and deeply learning complex topics. Programming books allow you to zone in and find a state of ‘slow’ thought that video courses do not allow.

However, online video and interactive courses are easier to access and get you working hands-on with code quickly. Online courses are great for ‘how-to’s and building your muscle memory with programming.

Honestly, programming books and online courses are best when paired together. While online courses keep you bound to a screen, books allow you to get time away and find yourself in a different setting. With books, you can deepen your craft. With books, you can get vitamin D, fresh air, and a programming education at the same time.


Benefits of Learning From Programming Books

Books on programming languages are fun and helpful. It is important to read programming books that explain every single detail along your way of learning. Many of them have hands-on challenges and projects that help you implement what you have learned. 

Programming books serve as a great learning tool and can be used as a readily available reference.

Here are some reasons why you should learn from programming books:

  • Get a Thorough Introduction: Programming books help you to get introduced to a topic and learn the concepts and terminology around it.

  • Reference Back Over and Over: Many computer languages are challenging to learn for beginners. You need reliable references to double-check your mistakes and learn how to avoid them. The quick online tutorials can lead to a lack of information.

  • Relax from Screen Time: Reading a coding book gives you a break from staring at a screen! It is easier to read a lot of topics on paper than on a standard screen.

  • Depend on Quality and Accuracy: When programming books are usually written, they go through a rigorous auditing process by top professionals in the industry. This makes these books a more relevant source by default.

  • Get a Bigger Picture: Programming books tend to describe the good practices and give you a big picture. This thing helps when you need a quick start or a new view.

  • Get Hands-On Coding Experience: A good programming book encourages you to open your programming IDE. They let you actually type the code, experiment, think, and tinker. 

  • More Intensive Learning: You put in what you get out. This kind of learning is harder, and more time-consuming than following a tutorial.

  • Fast Review: You can always read your book again to refresh some concepts. Skimming through a book tends to be a faster and easier refresher than scrubbing through a video.

  • Get Portable: You can take your book along with yourself wherever you go. You can even read it outdoors or at some friend's place. Also, you can share it with your co-workers.

  • Learn Complex Concepts: Programming books give a better overview of complex topics. If there is a difficult topic, you can easily read the line twice. This becomes sometimes tough with video-player. If you see that there are official ebooks that are maintained with the new version launch then go for it as well.


Benefits of Learning from Online Courses

The world of programming, web development, and tech is evolving constantly.  New languages and technologies come and go on a regular basis. In this fast-paced industry, many people rely exclusively on online resources like tutorials and video courses. They make online courses their de facto learning material.

Here are some reasons why you should learn from programming courses:

  • Get Hands-On, Fast: An online course generally provides more examples and hands-on mini-projects about programming languages.

  • Learn Step-By-Step: Online courses usually provide step-by-step recipes on how to get from point A to point B without much need for thinking or tinkering.

  • Learn Unlimited: There is a wide variety of online courses. You will always find a programming course that suits your goals.

  • Up-to-the-minute, Updated Courses with Quality Instructors: You can explore a variety of fresh topics and learn from the right instructors.

  • Keep Engaged: The pace of the course helps you avoid boredom. Video-based programming and they fit in any schedule. No matter how much time you can invest.

  • Get Info Books Don’t Cover: As this is a fast-paced industry, some topics that you want to learn are very new and no great book is available for that topic. Online courses will help you in such cases. 

  • Keep Up Better with Versioning: If you want to learn new frameworks like Node.js, Ember, AngularJS then go for the official tutorial first. These topics are relatively new and versions come out very fast which makes the printed books obsolete.

  • Get Updates: Programming topics might deprecate tomorrow. Online courses often publish updates and corrections. You just need to find a good instructor that you can trust to provide the right info.

  • Enjoy Visual Learning: As people, we normally understand better through visuals and images. So, it will be easy to learn programming through tutorials, videos, and online courses.

  • Fit Your Budget Easily: The good news is that there are many online resources and courses that are low-cost or even 100% free.


Where to Find Programming Books and Online Classes

These days, it’s super easy to find books and tutorials online. Before opting for a book or course, do research about the author, publisher, contents of the book or course.


Where to Find Programming Books

Here are a handful of quality places you can find programming books that you may not have thought of:

  • Free Kindle Books with Kindle Unlimited: Amazon offers many free programming books that you can download when you have Kindle Unlimited.

  • O'Reilly Learning: With O'Reilly online learning, you can get access to the latest O'Reilly books, videos, online courses, and interactive learning scenarios. But most impressive is O’Reilly’s book library, which is massive: you get nearly every programming book in publication. I’m talking unlimited digital access to all programming books published by Pearson, Addison-Wesley, No Stark Press, Manning, and more. The annual price can be steep, but it can save you if you are a technical book fanatic.

  • Manning: Manning is a programming book publication that hosts its own digital reader online. Their book previews online are generous and they also offer lots of free content as well, like free ebooks.


Where to Find Online Courses

Here are quality places you can find online video and interactive courses:

  • freeCodeCamp: The online resources on freeCodeCamp are 100% free. Their learning path focuses mainly on web development. They have an excellent selection of resources that are perfectly suited for anyone with no experience in programming or web development so far.

  • Codecademy: Codecademy offers free and premium interactive courses on various programming topics from Java to C to Go to JavaScript. The free courses are great to get familiar with basic concepts, get coding, and build your muscle memory. Codecademy also offers premium (‘Pro’) features like ‘career’ and ‘skill paths’ that guide you deep into programming concepts. For more on Codecademy Pro, see my Codecademy Pro review.

If you are looking for more free online resources, I have collected over 70 free learning resources for programming beginners, which includes both books and online course.

Miranda Limonczenko

Miranda is the founder of Books on Code, with a mission to bring book-lover culture to programmers. Learn more by checking out Miranda on LinkedIn.

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