Today, educational startups are everywhere. The number of them is growing daily. There hardly might be a week when no new HTML/CSS/Javascript educational site appears on the Internet.

Sorry if I offend someone, but I don’t believe in remote education through special sites that offer video lessons. More precisely, there might be some effect of course but quite poorer than standard education with people and books.

About ten years ago, the Internet was full of paid video courses on DVDs. These were home-made lessons made by students where they spoke on basics of PHP+HTML. Today, the startups remind me those DVDs. The only difference is you do not need to order a disk anymore but watch lessons online right after you have paid.

I’m not running an educational site. I also don’t want to reduce someone’s reputation or business. Let’s just discuss some points that seem important to me.

Let’s switch to a browser right now and google for “educational startup” phrase. For me, the first link is “Are Education Startups The New Dot Com?” In that article, there is another link titled “Edtech Is The Next Fintech”. Read them, they highlight my concerns.

Below, there is a bunch of list-like posts titled “N best educational startups”:

And so on. It was only the two first pages. Let’s check for Angel List then:

14,615 COMPANIES    2,646 INVESTORS    19,127 FOLLOWERS    2,675 JOBS

14615 companies. There are about 250 countries in the world. I’ll take rather 200 due to wars or lack of development in some of them. Dividing a number of educational startups on the number of counties gives 14615 / 200 = 73 per country.

Don’t you think it’s bit more than we need?

Look, we have about 3 search engines to find anything on the Internet. There are probably 2-5 mobile operators in your country. We’ve got one Wikipedia. But there are 14615 educational companies who want to make money on educational market.

I really doubt they are about real education

In fact, there is one goal that a startup tries to reach. It forces users to buy lessons making them think it could really raise their level. Site developers bring challenging factors to manipulate users. These are top-ranked tables, a scale of education decorated as a route with milestones and a crown or a goblet in the end. Any startup brings a chat-room to let users share their success to feel proud.

I’ve seen several educational sites and must confess they don’t bring any revolutionary ideas. Yes, some of them provide smart environment when you have an IDE into a browser. But the truth is there are only two ways of education that really work. These are people and books.

Sometimes, people ask me how to improve their experience. Usually they’ve spent some time solving educational tasks but they cannot start a real project. I always answer the same: join a project where professionals work. Being in a team of high-qualified people, you will grow up in a quite short term.

Reading books helps you to systematize fragments of random knowledge that you’ve got from Twitter, StakOverflow, Wired and so on. Everything that educational sites try to sell you has already been published in books. Really, there are tons of books about PHP, HTML, Java, Python or whatever. You may borrow them for free.

On the internet, you can by any used book for several dollars. A lesson is usually paid for subscription. In a month, you will lose your access unless you pay again. The book will be yours forever.

Yes, reading a book is a bit more difficult than watching a video. It’s hard and boring. You even need to interpret code in mind. There is no widgets and chats. Although, it really works.

A book is really important today since our knowledge is not arranged. We are getting random fragments missing important details. I may compare a book with an asphalt paver that moves slowly but removes any roughness and holes in your mind.

People and books are the only way to learn

Recently, I finished reading “Web-development with Clojure” book. Although I thought I knew Clojure pretty well, the book turned into discovery for me. I’ve got plenty of hints and technics that I’m willing to try in the future.

Education in wide meaning is hard process. Educational startups make you think it has become easy. That is wrong.

Once I finished reading my first Clojure book, I could solve any primitive task like sorting or finding min/max element in a list using recursion. But it took huge effort to write an HTTP server that manages database connection, renders templates, writes logs, calls Twitter API and so on.

The reason was all the lessons and tutorials miss some special knowledge about how to manage with complexity. Hot to connect parts of your application together.

A computer is not a best tool for education. It’s a great tool but also an entertainment center. Ideally, you should turn off all the messagers, close YouTube, Twitter… On your laptop, there a lot of things may interrupt you. Being tired, your brain can always find a pretext to switch on something funny.

IT-education is not about coding, it also includes negotiations. Sometimes, you might be 100% right but would not be able to deliver your ideas. You may offend your customer with non-suitable manner of speaking. Only people who work close to you may correct that mistakes, not online lessons. By the way, I have never seen a lesson that highlights anything from those mentioned above.

Of course, I do not blame startups for spreading across the Internet. The reason it happens is a lack of professionals. This is reaction of market. Did you want more programmers? Here you’ve got them. Young people know that IT companies are interested in hiring more people. Oftenly, watching just several videos enough to get PHP/Wordpress job paid in US dollars.

Universities are not in charge of your further employment. There is a common situation when you’ve just finished the last course but cannot find a job because the industry changes so fast. Nor the government will support you. Education seems to be the last thing they are interested in. Today, my country wages two wars, plays geopolitics and eradicates imported cheese while education level goes down-wise year after year.

Educational sites might be a hope. But they devalue the real meaning of education.

The process of self-education is hard. Only you is interested in it, not startups

OK I’m about to finish and I’ve got a question. I heard, the most powerful language is Lisp. At least Alan Kay said so (a guy who invented OOP). So did Stallman, Dijkstra and other great programmers. Do you know any educational site which offers Lisp lessons?

I googled for a bit to find any. Nothing on Coursera – the most known lesson hub. Nothing on Netology. At least Hexlet has SICP section where they retell it in Russian (see my note on books).

No, they won’t teach you the most powerful language. So what is the final goal then? Do we need more Python or Java programmers? We have already got lots of them but we still suffer from weird interfaces and buggy applications. It won’t work in such a way.

Let me summarize.

  1. I’m not against someone’s business. I even believe some people who watched those videos really made progress in their career. Maybe, they could not find proper books or their brain feels good with such a way of education.
  2. But I’d like to name things properly. Educational startups are the business by themselves. The goal of the business is to make money but not to make you cleverer. Instead, the longer you keep your monthly subscription active, the better a startup develops.
  3. There is definitely overheat on the educational market. It seems to be like a bubble.
  4. Startups tell you the education is easy and funny. It’s not.
  5. People and books help a lot. Online lessons – well, yes but quite less.