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The power of daily projects

Back in the summer of 2018, I created an online training program designed to help address a common challenge a lot of my students were sharing with me:

I’ve memorized a bunch of JavaScript methods and techniques, but struggle with knowing how and when to use them. When I go to build a project from scratch, I have no idea where to start.

Does this sound familiar?

If it does, you’re not alone. It’s really common!

In response to all of this feedback, I created the Vanilla JS Academy, a project-based training program designed to help students learn to “think in JavaScript” and work through complex problems.

Learning by doing

The first four sessions of the Vanilla JS Academy all used the same format:

  • Every Monday, I’d release a collection of lessons and two projects.
  • Every Thursday, I’d hold video office hours to answer any questions and help people get unstuck.
  • Every Friday, I’d share my solutions to the projects.

In-between office hours, students could use a private Slack channel to chat with each other, ask questions, and share their work.

The program was really popular, but I noticed a few big problems:

  1. The projects were too big and open-ended for beginners. A handful of people would quit in the first two weeks.
  2. For people who finished projects at the beginning of the week, there was too long of a wait for them to see the solutions.
  3. For people who couldn’t start projects until the end of the week, the office hours weren’t useful.
  4. There was too much downtime between projects. Students would have to overcome their learning inertia every Monday.

Building habits

This summer, I decided to throw out my most successful offering ever and redesign Academy from the ground up.

Here’s what changed:

  • Every other day, students get 1-3 short lessons and a small project. Each project builds on the lessons learned in the ones before it.
  • On the in-between days, I share my approach to the project and cover the common issues and mistakes I see students make.
  • Office hours run every other week to give people time to learn and think between sessions.

These changes had a few big impacts:

  1. Because projects are smaller and more focused, it’s easier for people to get started, push past roadblocks, and feel like they’re making real progress.
  2. Because projects are more frequent, it makes writing code a habit and prevents people from losing momentum.
  3. The “in-between day” solution videos tighten up the feedback loop, so people get feedback on their work more quickly and get immediate insights on things they can do better tomorrow.
  4. All of this led to more productive office hours sessions, and much more vibrant and engaged Slack community.

The new structure works so much better for people. I’m seeing so many more “aha!” moments. It’s awesome!

What my students have to say

The first run of the new program is about halfway through, and I’ve already gotten some amazing feedback from my students.

I’m loving the Academy and I don’t want it to end! 😢 For me this is priceless. I don’t work in tech yet and to be able to do those mini projects and discuss the code and best practices with you guys is a great learning experience. The pace of the course is nice too because it keeps me busy and that helps me feel more comfortable with the syntax and methods. 💯- Giamma Carioca
This is the first learning platform where I’m not overwhelmed or feeling unchallenged. The pacing is great and very helpful for my overachieving tendencies. 😊

And as a result I have seen I’m learning ALOT more, while still having pockets of time to embellish when I can.- Leticia O'Neill
In terms of knowledge gained per effort expended, this course is hands down the best I've ever tried. More than just the content, it is the growing confidence that maybe even I can actually do this. I feel like I am beginning to know what I don't know. That is huge. Well done.- Stewart Davis
I'm not a beginner in JavaScript but I'm really loving the Academy because I still learn new things and best practices. I think knowing best practices distinguishes a mid-level dev from a senior web dev.- Maria Blair
I am thoroughly looking forward to every morning because of the Academy!- Kieran Barker

The format is working so well that a bunch of students who are in the program right now asked me if I could built out a “part 2” for the program so they can keep it going after this session ends!

A new session starts in January

If you’re interested in the Vanilla JS Academy, a new session starts on January 6.

Registration opens up this Friday, and will be part of my Black Friday sale. Through Cyber Monday, you’ll be able to save 50% on registration and get over $1,400 in bonus discounts and freebies.

I’ll be sharing more information about my Black Friday sale on Wednesday, so stay tuned!