Learning Content in the Enterprise: Treehouse

Treehouse

Today we’ll be continuing a blog series in which we do deep dives into popular learning content vendors that organizations use, or could benefit from using more of to train and up-skill their workforce.  To catch up on the series, check out the earlier posts we did on content libraries and MOOCs.

This time around I’d like to do some deeper dives into specific learning tools that we on the team have used, and to kick things off we’re going to start with one of my personal favorites - Treehouse!  There’s a whole lot to love about Treehouse, so let’s dive right in.

What can I learn there?

Treehouse teaches you how to code.  It’s targeted primarily at taking people who know just a little bit or absolutely nothing about programming, and takes you straight through to building your own projects.  Keep at it long enough and you might even land a job somewhere as a software engineer!

Treehouse is always adding new content, which is important because web development standards and best practices are always evolving.  Topics include:

  • HTML, CSS, and Javascript

  • Ruby

  • Python

  • iOS

  • Android

  • Java

  • …and a whole lot more

What makes it different?

There are a lot of sites out there aimed at helping you learn how to code.  After all, programming is hot, it’s very in-demand skill, and the demand doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

But not all of these sites are created equal.  What really makes Treehouse shine is the how much time and effort they’ve clearly put into making the learning experience engaging, rewarding -- even delightful.

Treehouse has a very strong brand, reflected right off the bat in their name.  Treehouses are friendly, playful, even nostalgic places.  They draw you in, they spark your imagination, they’re intimate and personal.  Their mascot Mike the Frog, their friendly UI, and their action-adventure video series (it gets progressively revealed to you as you develop your skills) all play into the brand.  This kind of vibe is a far cry from, say, the one you might get trying to learn how to code by combining through the Mozilla Developer Network.  Nothing against MDN - it’s a great and important resource - but it’s not designed to give you any warm and fuzzy feelings.

Treehouse is also heavily gamified - as most of the most successful web development training websites aimed at beginners are.  Whenever you complete a quiz, a course, or a track, they make sure that you’re congratulated and get just enough of a dopamine rush to keep you going onto the next task.  Treehouse also features a site-wide leaderboard so you can see how your progress compares to the other learners on the site, something that can be very motivating.  For example, when after finishing one of your tracks you’re able to see that you’ve learned more about CSS than 50% of users on the site, you know that you’re getting somewhere!

What’s the learning experience like?

Treehouse does a great job of segmenting what you need to learn into bite-sized chunks (videos are rarely longer than 10 minutes) without losing site of the bigger picture - it’s always clear what larger skill you’re working towards, which is important to keeping the learner motivated.

At the highest level, content is organized into  tracks, such as Front End Web Development.  The track is divided into stages (ex/ Javascript Basics), which are further divided into “achievements,” each of which is comprised of 15-30 steps, which range from videos to multiple choice quizzes to coding challenges.

That’s a lot of organizational hierarchy!  The good part about it, though, is that it enables them to take a concept as broad and complex as “Front End Web Development” and make it feel to the earner that they’re making progress every step of the way and never get overwhelmed.

As for the videos themselves, each is led by an expert instructor, and delivery (as in, their speaking speed) is nice and slow so that when you’re having trouble with a topic you won’t fall behind, or if you’re reviewing something you can just speed up the video and breeze right through it.

One of the most important qualities of the learning experience is that immediately after a bite-sized topic has been described by the instructor, you’re asked to code it up yourself.  This feature separates Treehouse from many other web development learning sites out there, and I fully expect that if Treehouse did not have coding challenges integrated into the learning experience it would not be nearly as effective as it is.

Other sites that we may cover later in this series, such as Lynda, Pluralsight, or Egghead.io, do not have coding challenges built into their platforms, and while that doesn’t prevent the learner from doing the work on their own, it’s not required that they do so either, which means that many will not.  Treehouse, on the other hand, actively discourages you from moving on unless you have proven you understand the topic and hand by coding it up.

Pricing

Treehouse goes for $29/month at the individual level.  While this isn’t a ton of money, it’s notable that they feel they can charge given that there are a so many free options out there (such as the subject of our next installment in this series, Codecademy).  However, Treehouse is clearly offering a product that learners are lapping up - as of this writing, there were more than 300,000 learners signed up for the site.

Treehouse doesn’t indicate what their enterprise pricing is, but it is clear that their product is used at the organizational level.  According to their Treehouse for Organizations page, “hundreds of businesses, schools, and community organizations” use Treehouse.

What I dig

This whole post has kind of been about what I dig, making this section somewhat redundant, but I’ll summarize:

  • Well-organized curricula

  • Friendly and engaging UI

  • Very successful use of gamification

  • Great

What I could dig more

For all that’s great about Treehouse, there are a few things that I could quibble with:

  • Sometimes the videos can get a bit tedious and repetitive. This is more an issue with the medium than their execution of it; the issue mainly arises when you already understand whatever they’re talking about, but suspect that there may be something else in that video which you don’t yet know.  One of my next posts will be about another popular learn-how-to-code website (Codecademy) that does not use video at all, it’s just straight interactive learning, and which can be really convenient when covering through topics you’re already mostly familiar with.

  • This next point is related to things I’ve already said - Treehouse does not elicit as much coding out of you as I think they could.  Because their learning pedagogy is so heavily video-driven, this seems to leave comparatively little opportunity for actual coding, which is a shame.  One of the best things about learning to code online is that you can see the fruits of your labor and skill acquisition immediately.  It’s also the case that in order to really understand something it’s not enough to just parrot what you watched in a video, but to really put it into practice.  While Treehouse certainly gives you an opportunity to practice (again, unlike other purely video-based sites), there’s not as much as I think there could be.

Usage in the enterprise

So given this relatively rave review, Treehouse must be pretty popular with enterprises, right?  Well, I don’t have any official numbers on this, but in all the conversations I’ve had with learning professionals I don’t recall ever hearing Treehouse come up as a tool that learning organizations are taking advantage of.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this.  One is that it’s clearly not targeted at enterprises.  This is very much a consumer-focused product.  And yet, that is, of course, the main reason that it is so good, and should therefore not be a disqualifying factor for learning professionals looking content to add to their learning arsenal.

Another reason may be that it is mainly aimed at beginners.  Later on in this series I’ll touch on sites that are much more geared towards individuals who are already experienced developers.  That said, I think this is a rather poor argument for not making Treehouse available for your workforce, on two fronts.

First, there is little doubt that many of your employees, whether coding is explicitly required for their job or not, are eager to learn more about web development, but have found it to be too unapproachable.  Having a workforce that is more techno-literate can only benefit you.

Second, just because someone is an experienced developer in one language, such as Python, does not mean that they are ready to hop into a language like Ruby at an expert level.  They might pick it up much faster than a complete beginner, but they too still need to understand the basics before becoming proficient in the new language, and a beginner-focused website like Treehouse is perfectly equipped to help them do that.  Given the incredible pace at which web development continues to evolve, this will always be a need, even for the most experienced developers in your organization.

Final Thoughts

In case this isn’t already obvious, I would encourage more learning professionals to explore making use of Treehouse.  Are you using Treehouse in your organization already?  I’d love to hear about your experience - drop me a line in the comments and let me know!  Even if you aren’t explicitly using it as a learning organization, I’m willing to bet many in your workforce already are :)

But Treehouse isn’t the only great learning provider out there!  Codecademy is another excellent learning tool that takes quite a different, definitely delivers the goods.  We’ll take a look, coming up next.


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