Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Every Educator (and Student) Should Know HTML (and 5 Free Ways to Learn It If You Don't Already)

written by Andrew Coy.

Every educator and student should know HTML.

To me, this is the digital equivalent of saying: "Every student should be able to write an essay." And in truth, their are a lot more similarities between these two than differences. An essay is nothing more than a mode of communication -- an attempt to convince, prove, or at least argue a point of view. A blog post (in many ways) is an abbreviated, relaxed, at times more personal, and more interactive younger brother to the essay. Interestingly enough, however, whereas an essay has an audience of 1 (the teacher) -- a blog post has an audience of potentially millions physically anywhere.

And blog posts are written in HTML, which makes using HTML the equivalent of knowing how to use Microsoft Word (or OpenOffice, or Pages, etc.). HTML is how you put your thoughts on digital paper. And as this blog suggests, teaching is possible without paper -- a fact society is demonstrating every day in more areas than just teaching.

But if you have missed opportunities, have yet to get around to it, or simply haven't know where to start learning HTML, then now is a good time to change that.

HTML has been around since the web -- in fact, HTML is the web. Tim Bernes-Lee proposed the idea in 1989, created the framework shortly thereafter and over the past 20+ years it has proved to be the most flexible, simple, and enduring means of organizing the web. As Wikipedia puts it, "HTML elements form the building blocks of all websites."

The good thing about HTML is that everyone who uses it, puts things out on the web -- which means there are nearly endless amounts of resources at your disposal. I have highlighted 5 ways you can start learning HTML for free. is how I started learning HTML. Their site is a bit cluttered with advertisements perhaps, but nothing outdoes their Try it yourself » feature. They understand that there really is no better way to learn than by doing. And at each step of learning HTML W3Schools does a great job of breaking it down with "Try It Yourself" examples. Similarly, their reference section is also excellent. I still find myself there on a regular basis when I have a question. And if you get into more coding, their CSS, PHP, JAVASCRIPT, ASP, and SQL tutorials are also worth a visit.


If you have a blog (such as Blogger, WordPress, or the like) than you know that they have typically made it is easy to bold or underline text with a simple button. You may have also noticed there is usually a tab to toggle between "Compose" mode and "HTML" mode. The great thing about this is that you can learn HTML simply by going back and forth -- changing one thing in the "Compose" (WYSIWYG) mode and and then looking to see the HTML code behind it.

Online Books

If you are the type that just wants it spelled-out in a book, there are plenty of options for you. You don't even have to leave your computer or spend any money. Simply use something like Google Books to find one that is free. I found this "Basic Guide To HTML" by Jesse Dallas without much trouble at all (just limit your search to those with "full view only" to narrow your results). is a very simple to follow, thorough, and surprisingly not outdated option.

YouTube It

Put the power of YouTube to work teaching you how to code HTML. It's easy; is great for the visual learners; and will make sometimes complex steps much simpler to understand. While there is certainly a lot more out there in text, and the text is much easier to search and use as a quick reference, sometimes there is nothing better than watching someone else walk you through the steps while explaining them to you in plain english.
(another example video)

Friend / Library

Finally, if nothing I've suggested works for you, find a friend, check out your local library, or see if there are classes near where you live. Maybe you just need someone right there explaining it, or a book to hold, or a class to make you accountable to someone.


The great thing about learning HTML is that it empowers you to put your ideas out there in front of the world while simultaneously freeing you from the confines of the little buttons on any given website. You can resize images, add tables, change font colors, and do whatever else you want all with simple commands that don't take too much to learn. Once you have learned HTML, your ideas do not need to be confined to the single-space Times New Roman with 1.25 inch margin defaults that the essay was before you learned how to use Word/OpenOffice/Pages.


  1. Conclusion is spelled wrong and under a try it again icon obscures your words. TFTFY

  2. Can I respectfully disagree? It was only when online publishing tools evolved beyond the need to know HTML that the revolution in self-authoring began. Remember the nightmares of trying to teach teachers how to HTML so they could 'have a web page?' Let's face it, most people don't need to know how to run the back-end of a printing press, or how to program a computer, or [fill in blank here] to be content producers and sharers.

    Is it occasionally helpful to know a bit of HTML? Sure, now and then, and I've picked up a bit along the way as my technical needs have evolved. But we don't need to know HTML to publish text, photos, audio, video, or a variety of other multi- and transmedia products; the tools already exist and they're quite robust. Given the limited amount of time we have for student and educator learning, I'd much rather focus on the applied uses of online tools (how to make them work for you) rather than the technical aspects of them (how they work). And, of course, still have options to learn the HTML for those who want to know more...

  3. I am teaching a bunch of 6th graders how to create basic html pages and I do not know who I agree with more, Andrew or Scott. The sheer joy in their faces when they conquer some particularly troubling problem on their pages is worth the price of admission. Design is such a powerful motivator for human action (Pink) and HTML is design.

    In my own blogging I flip back and forth between compose and html all the time because I can! Making web pages is much more than writing digital essays. It is expression way beyond the the essay. It is total control. That is worth something.

    Now there are all kinds of programming enviornments that make writing code way easier. I use them. But you cannot beat going into good old fashioned "code" mode.

    Maybe I am an old fossil. I mean I read Cicero and Virgil in regular high school courses. It was not considered special and it sure wasn't an AP course. It was just expected! Maybe we should just expect some kind of coding.

    You do not have to know HTML to do all of the web 2.0 things that Scott talks about. It is still what lies under the hood however. Sometimes it just feels good to tinker with the engine!

  4. Sometimes, I realize that I can read something and make small changes, but I couldn't have written it. For example, I took enough Spanish classes that I can read most things I see in the language, but I can't really speak it or write it.

    That read-only level of knowledge is a great goal for areas that aren't your specialization but still touch on what you do. Everyone who posts anything to the web should probably aim to be able to read and make small changes to the HTML code of, say, their blog posts. I don't think everyone needs to be able to code their blog from scratch.

  5. Nice topic, nice tips. Thank you for sharing.

  6. With respect Andrew, I would like to say that it was the need to know and understand html in the early days of the web that really disillusioned teachers. I worked with teachers who laboured through the process of setting up personal web pages in Frontpage, Netscape etc. They weren't short of enthusiasm, they just had so many other demands on their time as teachers, coordinators and family people that after an initial attempt, most just abandoned the idea.

    It's the ease of use of the interactive web with it's blogs, wikis, social webs, video and photo sites that has really opened up the use of the Internet in education. Teachers can concentrate on content instead of the mechanics. Don't take us back to those days please. So many teachers have gained their wings while others are observing and getting ready to fly.

    While your intentions seem worthy, don't clip the wings of our learners and educators now by promoting their need to learn html. They'll pick up enough to do some basic problem solving and if they don't, they'll ask for help. They just don't need it when there is so much else to learn that can be of immediate value.

  7. There are a lot of ways how one can learn HTML. You've already mentioned most of the effective ways of learning it. Cheers to you! I hope that the people who would come across this blog would learn a lot. You're right. Learning HTML is needed on this day and age, especially in the generation of Web 2.0.

    There are a lot of data that we can access online now, and we can add a little to that big ocean of data called the Internet. There are blogs that have tools that can help you in making a site with them doing the HTML codes for you, and there are other platforms require you or let you modify the HTML code of your site. The handlers of the platforms we use sure have a good data management system. As we all know, data management can be used for accreditation systems, online libraries, customer relationship management, and a lot more. I guess in learning HTML, you must learn how to take care of the data you submit online, too.


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