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What Makes a Good Programming Tutorial?

Joel Lee 14-04-2015

Programming is tough. Whether you’re trying to grasp a new programming language 7 Useful Tricks for Mastering a New Programming Language It's okay to be overwhelmed when you are learning to code. You'll probably forget things as quickly as you learn them. These tips can help you to better retain all that new information. Read More or delving into a new area of programming 4 Free Websites Where You Can Learn The Basics Of Game Development When looking for a good game development tutorial series, you want one that will teach you the practices and mentality of good coding because you can then transpose those practices in any language or platform. Read More , you’re going to need some guidance. Unfortunately, not all tutorials are made equal.


That’s why it’s so important that you’re able to discern between programming tutorials that will actually benefit you and those that will only waste your time. Walking through a proper tutorial can be the difference between stress-free programming How to Learn Programming Without All the Stress Maybe you've decided to pursue programming, whether for a career or just as a hobby. Great! But maybe you're starting to feel overwhelmed. Not so great. Here's help to ease your journey. Read More or giving up in frustration.

Don’t waste countless hours like I have. Here’s what to look for in a quality programming tutorial.

Topical & Incremental Approach

Nothing is more discouraging than an infodump. Learning is a process of small steps taken at a time. Tutorials that go into information overload are ones that should be avoided at all costs. They’ll just end up confusing you.

On the other hand, a great tutorial is one that is topical and incremental, teaching in a way that starts with fundamental basics before building up to more advanced topics that require prior knowledge to truly understand.



But again, it’s important for a tutorial to be both topical and incremental. Dense topics should be broken down into small subtopics, and if those are still too dense, subtopics should be broken down even further.

In other words, each idea that gets taught should be as simple as it can be yet comprehensive enough to stand on its own.

One of the most memorable tutorials I’ve ever read was How to Remake Flappy Bird in LibGDX by Kilobolt. This step-by-step walkthrough of recreating Flappy Bird from scratch is a perfect example of incremental progress and topical coverage.

Easy-to-Digest Language

Information overload isn’t the only obstacle on the way to understanding a subject. The actual language of the tutorial — by which I mean diction, the inclusion (or exclusion) of jargon, idioms, etc. — is just as important.


Another way to look at it: the clearer it’s explained, the easier it will be to digest. Even the simplest concepts can be a nightmare to unwrap if the explanation is convoluted. So what should you look for?

Short and concise language. A proper educator knows the importance of being straightforward. They won’t dance around with long-winded sentences or try to show off how much they think they know. Tutorials are all about you, not them.

Light usage of jargon. Jargon can be hard to avoid, especially in areas of specialized knowledge like programming. However, a proper educator knows when to bring up jargon, when to postpone it, and when to skip it altogether.



When jargon is unavoidable, the educator should explain each term as it’s brought up rather than assuming the audience knows what it means. (The only exception to this is for tutorials that are clearly labeled as non-introductory.)

Concrete examples of abstract topics. Programming knowledge is heavily abstract, which is why it can be so difficult for some people to grasp. An excellent tutorial will not just explain a concept, but provide multiple examples that provide practical illustrations.

Online coding school Codecademy is a fantastic exemplar of easy-to-digest programming lessons Codecademy - Hands Down The Easiest Way To Code Codecademy is a new website slash interactive programming tutorial that walks you through the basics of JavaScript. While it hasn't been around very long, the site has already been generating a lot of buzz on... Read More . Not only is each course incrementally designed, but there isn’t much reliance on jargon and each lesson includes several real-world illustrations of just-learned concepts.

Guided Practical Exercises

On the spectrum between “purely theoretical” and “purely practical”, programming has a heavy bias towards the latter. Of course there’s a lot of theory and abstract knowledge involved, but none of it really matters if you can’t apply it with written code.


And that’s why it’s essential for programming tutorials to offer at least one — but ideally more — guided practical exercises. This is true whether you’re learning from a print, digital, or online source.

The absolute epitome of this idea is CheckIO, a programming tutorial that’s cleverly disguised as a game with progression through multiple stages. As of now, they only teach the Python language The 5 Best Websites to Learn Python Programming Want to learn Python programming? Here are the best ways to learn Python online, many of which are entirely free. Read More .


Each stage presents you with a concrete goal that represents one of several algorithms and abstract topics (e.g. feed X pigeons without overfeeding them). Doing so not only forces you to actively engage with the subject, but gives you an obstacle to overcome so you can actually feel like you’re learning.

We’ve also compiled a few other programming project ideas 5 Project Ideas To Help You Learn Programming Faster There are a few ways to ease the learning curve for programming. Get your hands dirty and learn faster with side projects you can start anytime. Play around with these five. Read More to help you learn faster. Supplement with these unique ways to learn coding 7 Unique Ways to Practice Your Coding Skills Let's repeat -- there's no age to learning. Once you are on that path, you just have to keep practicing. And today there are more ways than one to sharpen your coding chops. Read More to really kick your progress into full gear.

Where to Find Excellent Tutorials

Now that you know what to look for, where can you find them? While tutorials are a dime a dozen and a simple Google search will point you to thousands of them, the good ones can be somewhat tricky to find. It’s a shame how that works, isn’t it?

One brilliant resource is, which is a crowd-sourced collection of the best programming and tech-related tutorials on the web by topic and language. You do yourself a disfavor by overlooking this website.

Other great places to start include these online course sites for tech skills Get Tech Skills You Need At These Top 7 Online Course Sites It's not only about learning programming languages, but also the little unnoticed tech skills that could take you further in your career. Iterate to the next version of you. Class is in session. Read More , these courses by Microsoft and edX Learn to Code with These 7 Courses from Microsoft and edX Create mobile-first pages or code cloud solutions. There's a lot you can achieve with key technological skills. Now, you can learn to code with Microsoft's well-packaged courses on edX. Starting soon. Read More , and if you’re willing to drop a bit of cash, these online pay-what-you-want course bundles. Consider supplementing your education with these programming blogs for students 7 Blogs You Should Really Read If You Are A Student Programmer The field of programming is so broad that you'll never come out on top if you participate from a distance. Fortunately, blogs are a readily accessible medium keep you in the loop. Read More .

And lastly, I recommend reading up on programming burnout and motivation Programming Burnout: How to Regain Your Lost Motivation Feeling tired of programming? Suffering burnout and can't see a way out? Here's how to begin regaining your motivation to code. Read More . Bookmark it. Check back on it every few months. If you aren’t suffering from it now, you will at some point down the line, and if your motivation dies for good, it might mean you aren’t meant to be a programmer 6 Signs You Aren't Meant to Be a Programmer Not everyone is cut out to be a programmer. Is coding right for you? Here are some signs to point you in the right direction. Read More .

What kind of programming tutorials do you like best? Text or video? Theoretical or practical? Which sites and resources have proven most helpful to you? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

Image Credits: Code on Monitor Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Education Technology, Programming.

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  1. Vikram
    June 22, 2019 at 12:57 am

    We have been working on compiling the best free courses available to learn different technologies and design tools on Coursesity - . Check it out if you planning to learn something new!

  2. Rich
    April 16, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Does anyone know if is any good? They have a ton of courses but a lot of different teachers so I guess there are probably some good and some not good.

    • Joel Lee
      April 18, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      Udemy's quality is definitely on a per-course basis, but overall it's pretty good. Try running a few of the free courses to get a feel for things. Then, if you find a paid course that REALLY interests you, don't hesitate to enroll! Udemy's cost for education is extremely affordable, relatively speaking.

  3. DonGateley
    April 14, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    I'm learning C# from edX and find it to be good and free if you just audit it. What I've come to realize, though, is that learning the programming language is barely the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. The class libraries are much, much bigger than the languages that use them and there are no good tutorials I can find on them. Even for the very widely used .NET environment.

    Further, following Hacker News to see what's currently going on I see that the environments and ecosystems (with a gazillion acronyms as names) for actually doing useful things make even the language and class libraries the tip of the tip of the tip of another huge iceberg. If I sound discouraged it's because at the moment I am.

    It's looking to me like the only way to master this stuff is on the job with peers and mentors that are generous with their time and guidance.

    • Joel Lee
      April 18, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      You're right, DonGateley. Programming languages really are the tip of the iceberg. Algorithms and data structures are the next level down, but frameworks and libraries are the real meat of programming. Like you said, there are thousands of those out there, which can be overwhelming.

      The "trick" is to dabble in a lot of areas, find out what you like, then specialize. Focus ALL of your effort in that one area. It's more fun to be a jack-of-all-trades, but it's hard to be successful at it these days.

  4. Chinmay S
    April 14, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    The best programming tutorials are from TheNewBoston. The site is run by Bucky Roberts who makes all the videos. You will find videos on many programming languages. Not only programming, you will find videos on biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy and even on making a go cart from scratch.

    His videos are the easily the most quality videos on the internet. You will find many good or great videos on the internet but his videos are the best.

    • Gaurav Gupta
      April 15, 2015 at 9:13 am

      Hey Chinmay, completely agreed. I've featured a lot of his content on (mentioned above) as well.

    • Joel Lee
      April 18, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      Hi Chinmay. Thanks for mentioning TheNewBoston! I only have one experience with those tutorials and they turned out to be less-than-stellar, but it was more on the niche side and so it probably wasn't representative of the entire site. I didn't realize that TheNewBoston reached beyond programming, either. Wow!

    • VM
      April 28, 2015 at 9:09 am

      I give the New Boston two thumbs up myself! but, he did hire some other people start creating some lessons (maybe that's why @Joel you found some not so great tutorials).

      As a teacher who has been trying to find good online resources for learning programming (mainly Java and Python), I would recommend
      1) Edx's free into to java class here :
      2) Stanford's Programming Youtube playlist : (Java)
      3) for learning Python in a gamefied way (Good place to start learning complete beginning coding)