Sololearn is an Armenian/US incorporation established in 2013 under the name Sololearn Inc, which grew with the help of the venture capital group Granatus Ventures, which was established in the same year. Since then it has gained the attention of multiple other groups, and raised 1.2 million dollars in 2016 from various venture capital investors. Early in 2017 it won the facebook “FBstart App of the year” and, according to the company, has been popular by refugees trying to learn skills for their host countries job markets.
Using a phone to code is painful.
For those that don’t know, I’ll grade this app on 3 distinct areas:
-Design (Good to look at, easy to use)
-Fun (Does it feel like a chore to do, or like a game)
-Worth (Does it help you do the thing it says it will help you do)
Obviously not everything worth doing is fun, not everything fun is easy to do, and not everything pretty is substantive.
Sololearn is half educational app, half social network for coders. The home page is an activity feed showing off the code of the day, what your friends have been posting, and some code samples from SoloLearn itself. You can even upvote and downvote posts, similar to reddit. Of the five pages, four of them are social based. There is an arena to challenge another player’s knowledge on a language, there is your activity feed to track your friends progress, there are society posted codes which you can upvote and downvote, and there is a community discussion board for things pertinent, and impertinent, to coding. Only one page is about code learning, and it is set up in the way most educational apps are. Select a topic, do the lessons down the skill tree until you reach the end. The only real problem is that, while it is clearly their intent to break up the language into logical, manageable chunks, the lessons rarely seem to make sense together, and some topics should really be split into more than one group. For example, in the HTML fundamentals language, there are only 4 topics “Overview”, “Basics”, “Challenges”, and “HTML5”. Overview and challenges are made up of between 1-5 lessons, while Basics and HTML 5 have between 18-19. It would have made more sense to break them up into a wider range of topics, instead of all crammed together. The lessons themselves are also overly wordy, focusing more on definitions than examples.
Sololearn’s website and app are indistinguishable from each other, the only difference being screen size, speed, and a full keyboard. I usually stay away from the website versions of Apps on these reviews, as I am reviewing Apps, not whole programs, but it is worth a mention that there is little difference design wise between the two.
It’s crammed full of stuff, which makes it distracting, but the pages are different enough that you never feel lost or confused. The Design: C+
Sololearn’s lessons are not fun. Yes, they have progression, experience points, and achievements for gamification, but the lessons themselves are more introductions and reading comprehension rather than making anything yourself. For a topic as “hands on” as coding, lessons should contain simple tutorials on how to do things. You should be able to see what you are making in front of you, a challenge, a goal. Sololearn doesn’t do that, and when it tries it doesn’t do it well. There is a code playground to see things in action, but it is difficult to use on a phone, and extremely slow to run. This is a little different on the computer, but it is still not as fun as working towards an overall goal. The lessons are also extremely wordy and boring, trying to cram too much stuff into a lesson that would be better spread out over multiple parts.
Sololearn’s social network side is fun, and great for intermediate coding learners. Competing against other players encourages you to learn more to win, reading other coder’s programs is fascinating, and a great way to reverse engineer code to find out how it works, especially because most of the shared code is shared in multiple programming languages. The community is always there to help, and you can learn a lot if you jump in, but it’s more of a resource than an educator. It’s a place to test your code, and learn from the coding of others, if you know how to read the language beforehand.
For beginners? Not so fun. For those who know the basics? Fun if you want to be part of the community. Fun: C+
I hated the C++ course. The way it was written, and the lessons, did not make me learn anything about the language. I liked the HTML course, although it wasn’t as organized as I thought it should be. As a beginner to coding this was not the place for me to learn, and I’ve had a better time on websites like “Codeacademy.com” which encourage learning of coding through experimentation and concrete tutorials with a goal. I also hated coding over the phone, as I had to press the keyboard button three times just to get to my bracket keys, and you will use a lot of bracket keys. Coding over the phone isn’t ideal, and much better on a computer with a keyboard.
That said, if you are looking for a place to test your code, get feedback, and learn from other coder’s activities, SoloLearn is a great place to test your skills.
Just don’t expect to get those skills from the app. Worth: C
I didn’t understand this app at first. I did the C++ course for the first three weeks, and fully anticipated giving it a bad grade because of how frustrating the course was. But, after trying the HTML course and exploring the rest of the app, I can see it’s appeal. SoloLearn isn’t about learning the coding language, it’s about using it with others. It’s a step I never really got to try, not knowing much code myself, but I can see the appeal and the strength in it.
SoloLearn? More like CommunityLearn. Final grade: C++