Adios, CodeCademy

I’ve taught COM 302 Web Design at LCC International University for a few years now. It’s an introduction to building websites, which also discusses a lot of the related topics (marketing, usability, working with clients, etc). The course is required for all Communication majors, and many Business Administration majors take it as an elective. I normally teach one section each semester, with about 25 students in each.

I’m the only person who has taught the course at LCC, and I’m proud of how it’s developed over the past 5 years. Students start with HTML + CSS and build a website, put it online using Github Pages, then build websites using WordPress and Wix. Their final project is to build a website for a real client. I’m very proud of many of the websites build for there final project – many of them are used today!

Anyways, let’s talk about CodeCademy. CodeCademy is one of many ‘teach people to program in their web browser’ options today, and I’ve used it to teach HTML + CSS in this course since the beginning.

About two years ago they replaced their existing ‘Learn HTML & CSS’ course with two separate courses – ‘Learn HTML’ and ‘Learn CSS’. That was ok – it removed some useful content about the broader topic of web development and focused more on certain topics (like the box model in CSS) which were lacking in the first version. (Replacing the existing course also removed the achievements related to that course, so previous students had no way to prove they had completed the course, but that’s a different issue.)

This semester, however, I’ve made the decision to move away from CodeCademy. I understand that it is a good option for many people as they start learning to code, and I applaud their mission. However, as a classroom tool it has become more complicated.

This semester, I have one section of the course, with 24 students in the course. Of the 24, all were able to sign up for Web Design. However, for 4 of the 24, they were immediately put into an A/B test group that required them to pay for all of the content (beyond the very first lesson) in the formerly-free course. Making a second account allowed them to end up in the correct A/B test group, and they were then able to complete the lessons.

However, a couple weeks later, CodeCademy changed their test groups, and a few more students – who were previously unaffected – were now unable to complete their homework lessons without paying for CodeCademy Pro. Again, making a second account put them in the correct group, but it’s highly inconvenient to the student to need to make a new account at the whim of CodeCademy’s A/B testing.

Why would CodeCademy be doing this? From the outside, it seems like CodeCademy needs to increase their revenue and conversion rates to the CodeCademy Pro service. CrunchBase says they were founded in 2011, and they last raised funding in 2016, so it’s probably both time for more fundraising and getting liquidity for the original investors, if they haven’t already.  Showing strong revenue growth is an important part of that process, which requires pushing people to CodeCademy Pro more aggressively.

So, I understand why they are probably doing this; however, it makes my life as the instructor much more complicated. Next semester, I’ll be teaching the course again – for the 10th semester! – and will be changing platforms.

At this point, I’m leaning towards FreeCodeCamp – their curriculum is focused more on application, and will require me to reorganize the first half of my course, but they’re a non-profit, and focused on employment for those who complete their projects – something my students can benefit from.