Basic HTML Training
December 9, 2003 7:45 AM   Subscribe

I need to put together a quick (1 day) training course in html for customer service\marketing types (i.e. people with absolutely NO html experience) How did you learn html? Can you recommend a site that you found helpful?
posted by lilboo to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
Most of the sites I found useful are long gone, but I've taught both of my parents to write HTML, and what worked for me with them was repeating frequently, "If you open it, close it." Their biggest problem was forgetting that most tags come in pairs, but once I managed to whip a little of their own wisdom on me, (and learned which tags didn't need to be closed, like BR, etc.,) they picked it up fairly quickly.
posted by headspace at 8:10 AM on December 9, 2003

Actually, in HTML 4 and XHTML you can and should close all tags, even tags
that one didn't have to close under old HTML. For example, <br> is closed by placing
a slash inside the tag: <br /> Same with image tags: <img src="test.png" />
posted by johnnydark at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2003

For serious? Wow-- I guess that shows how long ago I learned to code, doesn't it?
posted by headspace at 8:26 AM on December 9, 2003

Annabella's HTML Help is a classic. I used it about 5 years ago and it hasn't changed much since, so it's a little out of date as far as XHTML goes, but it's SO comprehensive and only deals with absolute basics, in language that any non-techie can understand. It's a great beginning site for kids and newbies. It was THE site back in the day.
posted by iconomy at 8:27 AM on December 9, 2003

The venerable Zeldman is always useful, especially the NYPL Style Guide. I learned a lot from Lance [Glassdog], but the site is a bit stale as Lance has shifted focus to other things.
posted by plemeljr at 8:33 AM on December 9, 2003

The best way I found in teaching HTML is first off to be really really patient and have no problem in repeating things over and over and over again. I was a TA for the Intro Web-Design course at my unversity and there were many times when I had to hold someone's hand while they coded in html or css.
posted by Stynxno at 8:53 AM on December 9, 2003

Minor morale technique:

Helping complete newbies visualize what markup is can be the first big hurdle. I don't know about your group, but some of them may be old enough to remember early word processing programs that used inline markup.

Enter :b as the first thing on a line to make that line bold, etc.

I've seen older, tech-phobic types perk up and say "oh hey, I remember that" and get a better sense that html is something they can do.
posted by scarabic at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2003

I've found peachpit's book helpful to have around (esp. when you get beyond basics like body and headers and stuff, and you need image tags and tables and color help and those sorts of things, and that monkey thing that Wired used to have was good as a tutorial too.

and what scarabic said: it did remind me of old wordperfect commands in the beginning.
posted by amberglow at 9:27 AM on December 9, 2003

Years ago I learned HTML from HTML Goodies. When I taught an Intro to Websites course last year I used the book that accompanies the website.
posted by jess at 9:28 AM on December 9, 2003

can't you get them to use a decent editor that closes/verifies tags against a dtd - that would solve you're biggest source of errors without any teaching at all? (i use emacs, which i *wouldn't* recommend, but surely there are simpler editors that do this).
posted by andrew cooke at 9:31 AM on December 9, 2003

In terms of treeware, I used Castro's "Visual Quickstart Guide" published by Peachpit Press, and found it very useful [+]. It would be great takeaway book. [on preview - what amberglow said]

I find it useful to explain to non-HTML folks that HTML is not so much programming as formatting (use analogies with bolding/unbolding steps in word processors, etc.). Formatting seems less intimidating to them.
scarabic, you're exactly right; ask them if they remember WordStar, etc.

It's great to learn by attempting specific tasks and looking up the appropriate HTML ways to achieve them, rather than learning a bunch of commands and then thinking of ways to use them. Getting people to format their cvs could be one way.

Emphasise that WYSIWYG editors arre easier to use but less flexible in the long run. Introduce CSS as quick as possible. Don't teach them frames. Etc. etc.
posted by carter at 9:35 AM on December 9, 2003

How was I introduced?

Ian S. Graham's HTML Sourcebook. Nice book. Too bad it's out of date, but at least it'll force them to learn HTML properly...
posted by shepd at 9:35 AM on December 9, 2003

Helping complete newbies visualize what markup is can be the first big hurdle.

One of the best methods I've found to help conceptualize markup is to view the markup as boxes. Something along the lines of "First you put everything in the <html&gtl box. This has two big boxes, <head>, and <body>. Each of those boxes can contain various things..."

I've never found an especially ideal place to introduce stylesheets, but I'm of the opinion that they should be introduced right away with an explicit caveat that they can be confusing. Using simple styles in the head, just classes rather than dealing with ids and positioning and whatnot should be good for a one-day course.

One of the better examples of those I've used is a style for onsite links and offsite links, people tend to see the usefulness pretty quickly.

I don't know off the top of my head any particularily great tutorial sites (so many are out of date and teach bad HTML 3 tricks it's hard to find fresh ones) but good reference sites like w3schools often have useful tutorials and avenues for people to explore further on their own.

It would be interesting to see how your course turns out, if you can put any of the information online anywhere it could prove a valuable reference to people in the future.
posted by cCranium at 9:50 AM on December 9, 2003

In terms of sites Webmonkey has its uses, I also second the Peachpit book.
posted by johnny novak at 10:09 AM on December 9, 2003

I taught my dad the basics using the site and Dev Guru (and I still use dev guru myself)
posted by darsh at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2003

Philip Greenspun's approach is worth a look.
posted by normy at 10:41 AM on December 9, 2003

Oldie but Goodie
posted by gyc at 12:22 PM on December 9, 2003

For HTML that meets the current standards, I'd recommend HTML Dog's beginners guide.
posted by teg at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2003

... remind me of old wordperfect commands ...
Damn you amberglow! All those years of trying to forget wasted. I used to know by heart all the combinations of function keys and ctrl, alt, shift and I still have nightmares about the course I did where the teacher would make us print out tests and measure them with a special ruler that worked out if you had all the tabs and margins set exactly evenly, then would use the "compare document" feature to make sure we hadn't cheated by using spaces to line text up.

I found the best way to learn basic HTML was to buy an actual book (I chose this one and was very happy with it), then sit down and read it away from the computer before starting again while going through the exercises. That way, I had more of an understanding about why things were done a certain way.
posted by dg at 3:06 PM on December 9, 2003

Having taught a beginning HTML class at the college level for 7 years, I have difficulty imagining most students picking up much in a one day class. (The class I teach is 11 weeks and it seems to take a few weeks for it to "click" with some folks.) But then again, it probably depends on motivation. A lot of my students are taking the class because they have to, not because they want to, and they don't really do the readings or the homework for that reason.

I personally learned HTML by looking at web pages that explained it. This was in 1994, when there were no other options, really. I've learned more since.

The students I've worked with really have a need to DO the code, not just read about it. Which seems obvious, I guess, but it's easy to neglect sometimes. Giving them progressive exercises to DO code will help a lot. Encourage them to experiment -- sometimes they are so terrified to make mistakes that they won't try anything unless you tell them it's OK.

I found that most of my students, who aren't necessarily very computer-focused or even very reading-focused (it's an art school), had a lot of trouble with textbooks, even the "Learn HTML in 21 Days" sort of thing. They would see the 300 page book and just shut their minds off in self-defense. So I ended up writing a very targeted 8 or 9 chapter text of my own with lots of illustrations and exercises to try, and that helped somewhat. Still, distilling it down to one day... yikes. I guess I would just focus on what HTML is, and the basic structural aspects. CSS -- it's important, but is that too much to throw at them in one day? I'd certainly explain what it is, and demonstrate it, at least.
posted by litlnemo at 3:59 AM on December 10, 2003

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