How to Learn from Coding and Development Tutorials: Be Actively Engaged

In the last part of this series, we discussed why and how to break tutorials down into smaller pieces.  That was the first key to effectively learning from coding and development tutorials.  The next key is to stay actively engaged with the tutorial.  It’s not enough to just passively follow instructions.

Do the Steps, Write the Code

This principle might sound obvious, but many people just copy and paste tutorial code instead of writing it out.  I see students doing this when learning from online textbooks or tutoring sessions as well.

Copying and pasting is a passive activity that does not engage your brain in the learning process.  The act of actually typing the code forces you to pay more attention to what you’re doing.  If you make a typo or mistake, you get an extra chance to practice your debugging skills as well.

There might be times when it’s better to copy and paste.  For example, sometimes it’s a waste of time to type out repetitive variables that you already understand.  If you’re doing a game tutorial that requires you to write out position variables for a bunch of platforms, copying could save valuable time, as long as you understand what’s going on and how to do it.

But for the most part, choose the active route and write out the code, do the steps, don’t just copy a project.

Take Notes

Anyone who’s read my study tips knows that I’m a big fan of taking notes.  My advice for tutorials is no different.

Ask Yourself Questions

In the previous post of this series, I mentioned three questions to ask yourself after you complete a tutorial section:

  • What did you do?
  • How did you do it?
  • Why is it important to the overall project?

Those are good starting points for tutorial notes.  Try and start by answering each of these questions in a few sentences each.

Let’s take the screen wrapping section of the GDevelop Asteroids tutorial as an example.  Take a minute to read through that section, if you have time.  Here is how I might answer the questions after doing the section:

  • What did you do?  I implemented screen wrapping.  When an object moves outside of the screen on one side, it will re-enter on the opposite side.  An object going off the top will “wrap” around to the bottom of the screen, and an object going off the left side will “wrap” around on the right.
  • How did you do it?  There were a few steps involved, for each object on the screen:
    • For horizontal (left – right) wrapping, check to see if the center X point is greater than the screen width or less than 0. This means it has gone off the screen.
      • If it is off the screen, multiply the X position by -0.95. Multiplying it by a negative number will make it “flip” to the other side, while the 0.95 (less than 1) puts it back within the screen boundaries.  Multiplying by less than 1 will make the new coordinate position less than the screen boundaries.
    • Do the same thing for the vertical (top – bottom) wrapping, except with the Y position rather than X, and screen height rather than width.
  • Why is it important to the overall project? One of the features of the original Asteroids game is a continuous screen.  The screen wrapping implements this feature.

Note that for the “how” question, you’d need some knowledge of screen coordinates and a bit of math to understand what’s happening.  If you were doing the tutorial and didn’t understand the process I described, you would need to ask questions and make additional notes.  Feel free to contact me if you want more information on the specifics of the math.  But regardless of the specifics, hopefully you understand from the example the general idea of how to answer the questions I suggested.

Do a “Brain Dump”

Another way to take notes is to do a “brain dump.”  Try to recall and write down as much as you can about what you just learned.  Try to do this as soon as possible after you finish the tutorial section, when it’s fresh in your mind.  Don’t look back at the tutorial yet, until you finish the dump.  Then, after you’ve finished writing, you can:

  • Check the tutorial to verify what you wrote
  • Fill in any blanks or missing information
  • Find answers to your questions and confusions

The brain dump is a great way to stay engaged when you’re doing a tutorial.  It reinforces what you’ve learned, and encourages you to pay attention during the tutorial.  Here is a great writeup on the benefits of brain dumps.

If you’d like to learn more about how to take good notes, you can also check out the free guide I wrote.

Seek More Information

I mentioned this when I discussed the screen wrapping example, but if you don’t understand something in a tutorial, look for more information.  Finding help or information when you don’t understand is a great way to actively engage.

Do Extra Research

If you have questions, you can start by doing your own research.  Some ways you can find answers:

  • Look for other tutorials on the topic or questions that you’re confused about.
  • Check the documentation or wiki for the tool or language that you’re using.
  • Get good at using search engines, such as Google.  Here’s a great resource for how to do an effective Google search.

Ask for Help

If you’re still not able to figure out your problem, it might be time to ask for help.  I’d suggest starting with any official gathering places for the tool or language you’re using.  Usually, that’s a forum or message board, but other common channels these days include:

  • Discord
  • Youtube (ask in the comments)
  • Slack
  • Twitter and other social media

Some tips to remember when posting questions:

  • Provide a concise description of the problem.
  • Share what you’ve tried so far.
  • If you can, post your code and/or relevant screenshots.
  • Search the forum or channel first to make sure the question has not already been answered.


The key point for this post was to be actively engaged when you do a tutorial.  Simply copying and pasting code is too passive to be effective for learning.

I’ve covered several topics in this post in more detail in a few different resources:

In the next post, we will talk about the final guideline, applying what you’ve learned.

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One Response to How to Learn from Coding and Development Tutorials: Be Actively Engaged

  1. Pingback: How to Learn from Coding and Development Tutorials: Apply What You Learn - Cloudy Heaven Games

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