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Why Memorization is a Terrible Way to Learn How to Code: Insights from a Self-Taught Web Developer

Why Memorization is a Terrible Way to Learn How to Code: Insights from a Self-Taught Web Developer

This post was originally written in late 2020, but was never published until now. Better late than never.

I've been teaching myself how to code for the last six months. More if you count learning HTML and CSS. In that amount of time, something became glaringly obvious: most people are learning how to code on hard mode.

I started learning front-end web dev like anyone else might: I bought a popular book about javascript (Headfirst JavaScript), started to learn how to think about writing code from a trusted expert (Robert Martin), watched numerous video tutorials online (Traversy Media), enrolled myself in several courses from a popular learning platform (Udemy), studied books produced by an online bootcamp (Launch school), and used popular web dev resources (W3 schools).

In this six month process teaching myself front-end web development, I noticed a ton of people were trying to learn how to code through memorization.

Wrote memorization is a terrible way to learn how to code for two reasons.

  1. Memorization actively drains your willpower and mental energy
  2. Understanding coding logic is much more important and sustainable

Learning languages is about connecting what you already know with new concepts and applying these new concepts to real-world examples with some frequency.

But most coding tutorials don't help you connect their new ideas with concepts you already understand.

Most coding tutorials are faster paced than new students can absorb, yet simultaneously lack important context that explain why certain methods are being used.

Most tutorials show you how to do cool things, have enticing titles, and even share source code for transparency, but don't explain the logic of the code at all.

Sure, they show you the code on screen, but most explain how to style applications more coherently than explaining why they using specific JavaScript functions over others or how exactly any of this logic works in the first place.

As someone who's taught adults and children serious topics before, I find relying on mediocre learning resources intolerable. You can learn how to code without wanting to pull your hair out. Insist on using resources that explain WHY.