So you want to learn to…

I have had several friends approach me in the last few months about career changes, and what they might do to decide if they want to pursue something, or how they might go about acquiring skills for a particular job.   Recently, I’ve had one friend who’s done some print graphic design work as part of their administrative job, and a cousin who is starting high school and has dreams of being a video game designer or programmer.  Both came to me asking for advice on how to get the skills needed to possibly start without going back to school.  In addition, as a pool instructor at Cuesta Community College here in San Luis Obispo, I often find instances in certain classes where a student could use additional resources to help them understand the subject matter or help them realize certain concepts.

While there are many paid training platforms out there, there are many fairly high quality tutorials to be found on everybody’s favorite video site, YouTube.   In my spare time, I’m a musician, and I’ve been super impressed by the quality of some of the educational channels that exist today for various types of musical instruments, including bass for me, guitar, and clarinet.  I even sent a link to a video to one of my son’s friends to help them with their clarinet embouchure.

The point is, there are a ton of high quality tutorials available for beginners on YouTube that didn’t exist back in the day when I was learning to play bass or learning to write code.  While Stack Overflow is a fantastic community to get your questions answered, many times users looking to get into the graphic design or web development industry are simply not sure where to look, or how to vet online content.  A lot of times it’s best to start out with a simple YouTube search, such as “X tutorial for beginners”, where “X” is the topic of choice, such as “graphic design tutorial for beginners” or “bass tutorials for beginners”.

I’m going to recommend a couple of channels, and then give a few pointers on how to get the most out of this online experience.

EJ Media is a fantastic channel for development of all kinds, but in particular when it comes to the three cornerstones of the web, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  Many of the attributes that I think are important for a good online educational channel are present:

  • Clearly spoken – the lessons are well articulated and easy to understand
  • Tutorial flow – the tutorials flow from one step to the next in logical order
  • Thorough – in each case the first tutorial starts with a definition of the subject matter at hand to give context and history
  • Visually clear – the tutorials are easy to see and visually easy to follow
  • Easy to do – especially in this sense, the tutorials require nothing more than a text editor and a web browser, making it easy for anyone to perform the tasks or follow along

I have used this channel on occasion to augment my own teaching and I will recommend it to anyone looking to begin coding for the web.  In addition, EJ Media has a ton of other tutorials in a wide range of related disciplines.

Gareth David has an interesting series on graphic design that is well suited to beginners.  He not only covers the theory behind what Graphic Design is, but also goes into good depth on each topic.   He is also thorough and visually clear, but has had challenges in terms of being easy to understand because of his accent.  That said, he takes feedback well and has worked to improve that aspect of his tutorials, which speaks well for his ability to communicate.

There are challenges when one tries to find online content, for sure.  Everyone learns differently, and someone looking to consume this content should be aware and try to find an instructor that will mesh with their learning style.  I’ve also come across content where the speaker is hard to understand, or the tutorial is built around specific tool sets or software, that may make it difficult to follow along.  I highly recommend watching two or three videos on a channel before making a decision on whether to commit to continuing or not.  It is important that the viewer not get discouraged in the first few videos;  if so, I would say to move to another tutorial set or instructor rather than giving up.   It may take a few times before someone can find an instructor that works for them, for the content they would like to try.

The best thing that comes out of having this immense array of information at our fingertips is that it is a lot easier to try something nowadays.  A few hours of working with a YouTube channel might convince someone they just aren’t cut out for something, or it might do the exact opposite and open them to a bunch of possibilities.  I am hopeful that my two friends might find their passion as they work on challenges in their respective tutorials…and if they don’t, they’ll have only spent time.

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