Learning the Web: College Needed?

Is College Needed For Web Design?

Learning web design is pretty challenging especially if you are like me and do not have a technical background (and I do mean no technical background at all).  There are so many coding languages and some are super complicated.  At times it feels like the greek classes I took in seminary… my head is spinning and my brain is running slower than a turtle covered in molasses.

However, it’s not just the languages themselves that can be mentally challenging. Figuring out where to find the information can be just as much of a struggle, especially in when you are starting out. You either find resources that are light years ahead of your learning stage or what you find is outdated and incorrect.  Your source of information that you thought was a gold mine turns out to be shoddy (which of course you learn after you have spent hours listening, taking notes, building a resume web site that you showed to a web boutique’s art director who never called you back… *sigh*). After a year and a half of learning web design I have surveyed a few different education options & wanted to share the value (& the not so valuable) of each.

When I first started thinking about learning web design the biggest question I had was whether or not I should go back to school. I had been trying to learn web design on my own but was really struggling with time management and confidence.  All the resources I found looked of equal value and I wasn’t sure how to choose what was best.  In the past I have excelled in a structured, classroom environment so after much deliberation I decided to give college a whirl (again that is – I have a degree in Psychology).  As a husband and dad (4 kids) who lives 45 miles from the nearest metropolitan area I was looking for something I could do online to save time and money.  The program I found seemed decent so I signed up for Beginner HTML, Beginner Programming, and Intro to Photoshop.

When I first told a friend of mine (who is in the web design field) that I planned on taking some college courses he was nonplussed about the decision.  He shared that web design courses are often filled with outdated content. This field is changing rapidly and there are so many variables that can affect a curriculum. Personally, I found that his advice was pretty much on the nose. The classes moved at a slow pace and the content was very basic. In some cases I found out that what I was learning was no longer industry standard (not good for a guy who is wanting to work in the industry as soon as possible). I will say that the Photoshop class was the exception and I really learned a lot.  Photoshop is such a jumbled collection of options that it’s kind of like a coding language all it’s own.

I am sure there are some college programs out there with instructors who are killer and work hard to keep their content updated, but programs like that are not common. The elements that go into creating a website are improving and changing all the time. New technologies force browsers to update which affects coding standards. Programming advances can result in industry wide changes.  All this makes it very difficult for an instructor to keep curricula on par with what is going on in the professional arena.

In the end, I felt like I was going to be able to learn to make a better quality product and learn faster taking a different route. I turned to online course libraries, specifically Treehouse & Lynda (I’ll share more about those in my next post). I’m still very grateful for the collegiate experience and though I didn’t get what I have initially hoped for what I learned was essential: confidence & self-discipline.