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Why video tutorials should NOT replace reading documentation

Carl Wills
Fell in love with Flutter/Dart in 2018 and have been a follower ever since. Been in the software field since 2015.
・2 min read

As more and more people start their programming journey, I'm finding that the number of video tutorials are increasing. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Of course people will be making video tutorials showing off the basics of a cool new language, package, or feature. Heck, I might even start making video tutorials. But I'm also finding that more and more learners are solely depending on video tutorials when they start learning something new.

Now, I don't think that video tutorials are bad. I've learned a lot of really good things from them myself. But I'm always amazed at the lack of awareness, by new programmers, that written documentation even exists for whatever they are trying to use.

I use Flutter a lot in my free time, so I'll use it as an example here. Flutter has awesome documentation. Here's an example from the Color class
Screen Shot of Color class documentation

Being able to read and understand this form of documentation is invaluable as you progress on your development journey. In it you'll find useful constructors, parameter descriptions and even common examples!

There will be many times that all you have to learn from is a set of documentation, and being able to quickly reference it and understand the basics will help you iterate quickly, stand out in the company that you're at, and can even help you be more productive.

Now all of that being said, I want to reiterate that I think video tutorials are good! But I don't think that they replace being able to read and understand documentation. A healthy balance of both is what's needed to really thrive and grow as a developer these days.

If you're just learning your first language, or your fifth, I'd recommend taking a look through the documentation to see what you can find! You might be surprised by the little gems that are hidden away in there!

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Let me know in the comments if you read through documentation before starting a new project, or if you jump right into video tutorials!

Thanks for reading,

Discussion (17)

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄

On the positive side, videos are better than the reference documentation to give you the big picture and a sense of familiarity.

On the other hand, it feels too passive to me. I'm following a video course right now and I sit uncomfortably in my chair, wanting to do something.

I wonder if programming videos are not the poor man's version of pair programming, one of the industry best kept secrets.

carlmobiledev profile image
Carl Wills Author

There's definitely a place for video tutorials, but a healthy balance between them and documentation is what I've found is the sweet spot for my learning style.

Just like you said, they give you a great big picture overview and maybe a few keywords or ideas to lookup when you open up the documentation.

siddharthshyniben profile image

I rarely watch video tutorials because they are too slow/too fast for me. I prefer reading (maybe a transcript of the tutorial)

Also, if a package is documented well enough, it's easy to learn. I learnt angular completely from the docs

leob profile image
leob • Edited

Same for me, I vastly prefer reading docs or tuts over slogging through a Youtube vid!

sandorfalot profile image

I just can't do video tutorials for most things, in my former career in IT, to knitting, to what I do know, welding and machining. I prefer having my books with me. I cannot stand videos for coding at all, it just throws me off, unless its done very well. I don't learn well by video, but seeing someone typing code onto their monitor on a low res youtube video is just frustrating.

Give me the documentation any day. I also say this as someone who can't sit and watch a movie or TV show without doing something else with my hands. I knit or draw or something. When I was in college, we weren't taught by video. And my welding instructor is colour blind, he learned more by sound, which employers get a kick out of, too. I can hear your bad welding a mile away!

carlmobiledev profile image
Carl Wills Author

Yes, totally agree. It takes someone with really good communication skills to keep me engaged and "entertained" enough to stick with it!

leob profile image
leob • Edited

No you're not harsh at all, in fact this should be plain obvious to anyone ... and not only shouldn't video tutorials be replacing documentation, they should also not replace good ol' written tutorials (blog posts) !

jsf00 profile image
Saf Venture

As some of these fine developers told me, the official documentation should always be your basis. It's more like the manual of the language you’re learning. Think of it like you have a new equipment and there's a manual on how to operate it. But there are times that the official documentation is too difficult to understand especially if you're new to the language. That's the time you look for other resources for further explanation. This is when video tutorials, blogs, etc. are very useful. But then you should go back to the official documentation.

arif98741 profile image
Ariful Islam

yes official documentation is always recommended

jonahhgohh profile image
Jonah Goh

Great post! Really agree with you on this one.
I'm still fairly early in my programming journey and I started mostly by going through video tutorials. I used to learn almost everything through videos on youtube because I felt documentation pages are really wordy, hard to understand and I generally took a long time to find for the information I need. I was so dependent on learning through videos that I used to search for answers of my code on youtube, so that I could follow along. Looking back it, that was quite stupid of me haha.

A while back, I started making documentation as my go to and it is life changing.. I started getting things done so much faster than before. That 10 minutes of video I put myself through, I learn so much more and in depth just by reading the documentation in that same amount of time.

Now, I mostly watch videos only if I am learning something completely new and I want a big picture of it or if I need more clarifications from the documentation I do not quite understand.

carlmobiledev profile image
Carl Wills Author

Awesome! I'm glad you found the right combination for your learning style! I'm the same way, I like videos for big picture stuff but I always seem to dig into the documentation to figure out what other options I have, or other things the videos didn't go over.

jdeepd profile image

Ya. Even a book is more useful than Video tutorials. I find books to be way more helpful in clearing concepts. I watched a ton of videos on how to use git but I only learned to commit , push and pull(And honestly I thought that was everything in git) until I read the book Pro Git. When reading the book, I realised how so many important things were just completely ignored in the video tutorials.

phantas0s profile image
Matthieu Cneude • Edited

I would go further than that.

At the beginning of my career, I was mostly looking for answers on Google.
Now, I'm mostly using the documentation. Why?

  1. It allows me to dig a bit deeper when I have a problem and to really understand what happens. I learn wayyy more that way.
  2. Documentation is way more reliable than the random stuff on Internet (including stack overflow).

But it's a question of preference and also depends where you are in your career. For beginners, some documentation is too complicated to understand and ask for too much prior knowledge.

Sometimes, it's also good to look at a video when you're only mildly interested by the subject or because you know that you remember things better that way.

In short and as always: "it depends". Of the context, your personal preferences, and what you're trying to do.

carlmobiledev profile image
Carl Wills Author

Yeah, so true! Sometimes video or stack overflow can be really helpful, but the documentation never lies!

marianvelani profile image

Very true πŸ‘

milandry profile image
Michael Landry

Great documentation > great video tutorials > bad video tutorials > bad documentation