What Are Your Favorite Learning Materials?

One of the things we’re constantly doing with Flex is adding to and improving the learning materials provided with the product and on the web site. This includes prose documentation, the ASDoc API descriptions, sample applications, and tutorials. I’m probably going to be spending a good deal of time on these over the next few months, and will be looking to the community for feedback and suggestions. So let’s get started with some not-so-simple questions…

What learning materials would you hold up as an example of how to do things correctly? What specifically did you like about them? For example, I’ve heard that ASP.NET gets high marks for its documentation. Have you used any of it? Anything to share?

Any particular Macromedia documentation that stands out for us to emulate? Suppose hypothetically that Macromedia had to focus on just one kind of learning material; where would you want that focus? Samples? Tutorials? Some new kind of material?

All feedback appreciated for now; this is the warmup. More detailed questions to follow as we pick up steam on this effort.

18 Responses to What Are Your Favorite Learning Materials?

  1. Scott Barnes says:

    Firstly, I won’t mention pricing heheheheheheh..Umm, Matt i have to admit that in basic applications like Microsoft Excel, they when talking about “code” show you multiple variouts of how a piece of code can be run off of the same set of data..ie look at VLOOKUP help for instance.Now, sometimes I see this in a lot of MM’s docs, but other times I don’t or they kind of cheat by referring two methods/approach to the one example (sharing it).I think if you going to go to the trouble of showing an example, show various ways on how that example could work with different objectives applied to it. I’ve found when situations like this are presented, you kind of get the ability to work it out more quickly rather then writing your own test-cases.If you even had the time, Diagrams are a big help, even showcase examples (screenies) etc of how code can end up looking. As lets face it, if your looking at code for an idea on whats going on, you need to see what visually happens in some cases. I know FLEX did this well, with its sample area…heres the code…heres what it looks like when run.. Other products (ie CFMX/FLASH) don’t really do this.Not sure if your focus atm is just FLEX or all of MM’s products, but for me, personally, FLEX so far has been the one product out of all that has some really thexy and useful amount of documentation, so kudos on that one.

  2. Matt says:

    General comments for MM I’m sure will be shared but I’m primarily focusing on Flex. I think the Explorer has been useful but clearly we need to provide more. So I’m figuring out what that “more” is.

  3. vinny.timmermans says:

    Real world samples. Except for the Flex Store the current level of examples does not exceed the Hello World level. I agree with Marco that the complete lack of CF-Flex samples is almost embarrasing (Maybe you should wait with a Flex-CF sample until the workarounds are fixed in Blackstone and Flex 1.5 ;-); Don’t frighten people).As for Microsoft, yes they deliver some very good starter kits. Complete real world solutions MM developers could only dream of.Another aspect that should get more attention is interface design. Flex is postioned as a RICH PRESENTATION tier. Most of the examples, except for some of Christophe’s work, do not illustrate the richness Flash-based GUI’s are able to deliver. Compared to the innovation I have seen in lots of Flash interfaces, most Flex interfaces I have seen are rather boring. A simple menu and a bunch of datagrids. What about an example of an innovative navigation menu. Surprise us. Bring the Flash WOOOOW! factor to Flex.

  4. Stephan Zuch says:

    Please dont hide your real world examples anymore… I was always wondering why there is just screen cam and robodemo stuff in the flex showcase. that is not at all a proper way to experience RIAs and Flex! What your Flex customers and developers wanna see is working examples to convince them of Flex. The working(!) Flex App for the sales people and the code for those apps for the developer. Its still the best way to learn by great examples. And i know that u have these examples, because i attended an event with cristophe coenraets 🙂 With Flex it doesnt take long that that you come to a point where you need more advanced samples to learn from then just the flex store. To improve the docs i would add more detail in the remoting chapter and especially in the creating custom components chapter, (because it quite challenging to create real custom components) otherwise the documentation is great! thanks for listening 🙂

  5. ethan says:

    just take a look at http://www.richinternetapps.com/index.htmlthis is the kind of samples-real world material you need to be putting on the site.

  6. Clint Tredway says:

    I agree.. More REAL world examples. I had to figure out all of the CF-Flex integration, but again, it wasn’t that hard.I personally learn best by example. More examples!

  7. Stacy Young says:

    Simple end-to-end example apps that demonstrate a single aspect of a well architected solution highlighting the topic at hand. Perhaps you don’t need to go thru the ABC’s on every tutorial but the complete code should be there as well as references to background topics.( For the “not as” unsophisticated developers such as myself: for the basic how-to articles add a glossary for ‘big terms’ and explain in grade 3 english. Unfamiliar terms can create a learning barrier right off the bat and lose a person for the rest of the article/topic. )Matt, take Stephen and Alistair’s book as an example. In building my first app (using Scottish engineering principles 😉 the first task/story I had to tackle was preloading an array of items on app startup. Easy enough to hack in a few short moments but requires a little more effort with regards to taking the bigger picture into account. How will it fit in with the rest of the app? Will I need this same data elsewhere? How do I update/store it? etc etcI took a gander at the “Iteration 1: Credit Card Selector”. While the task of the story was to simply load an array of objects, it touches on all aspects of implementation in detaul and nails down all essential patterns in the first outing.To me this method offers best bang for the buck. Even if the developer doesn’t understand everything initially…it’s setting them up for success down the road.Essentially what I’m saying is to avoid materials that deal with abstract “blocks of functionality” that refer to other portions of an application as if they’re some far off mystical being. “Now that we’ve got this small portion done we can just plug it into the services layer – which you should have done already and be an expert in piecing together”Long winded way of saying, more real world examples. Lots of redundancy when it comes to hammering in design patterns while highlighting the task at hand…and steer clear of very abstract concepts for the most part.cheers!Stace

  8. superabe says:

    More tutorials for moderately complex applications that go from start (right from setting up a Flex Project site) to finish (testing debugging & deploying) highlighting BEST PRACTICES to be used throughout.Definitely need applications that with that “excite” from a design point of view. Current Flex apps are getting really boring, and seem to indicate a limited flexibility from a design perspective.

  9. Stacy Young says:

    “not as” unsophisticated = “not as” sophisticatedThink I’ve just proven I belong in that category. 😉

  10. nejsum says:

    When looking into Flex some weeks ago I found the reference material rather weak. I can’t currently pinpoint exactly what is missing, just that I many times didn’t find what I was looking for.I’m an experienced software developer who have never used Flash before. I have no problem reading language specs etc. but found the AS reference rather thin on details. Same goes for the MXML reference.

  11. Irishdancer says:

    If I could choose learning materials, I’d vote for examples and step-by-step tutorials illustrating more complex tasks like database integration not only with ColdFusion but also with MySQL and such. I think it would make life a lot easier if you don’t lose so much time just figuring out how to do it.I’d also appreciate more examples in the software doc for the classes and methods so that one can see how a method call or whatever might look in “reality”.

  12. As a J2EE developer I found the ‘JavaDoc’ style documentation for the MXML and ActionScript classes a little confusing. I had to jump around quite a bit to actually piece together all the information I needed.I’d also like to see information included in the reference docs which state when a particular feature (i.e. MXML tag, class etc) appeared in the product. For example the slider ins’t in GA and requires Updater 2.I also had to do quite a bit of research work to get Flex up and running on Weblogic which I’d like to have seen in the docs.

  13. Steve says:

    Books! Old fashioned I know. The ActionScript dictionary OReilly) is permanently open on my desk and its easier to read, easier to flick through and doesn’t require its own browser window so less window clutter. Its well layed out with no design nonsense just a solid block of reference material. Its also cross indexed for related commands well.But that’s only good when you know what you are looking for. To get that far you need something more like the current Actionscript Training from the Source books. Fully worked examples, well paced, lots of hand holding, lots of very simple this is how you do this, one thing at a time lessons. It spoon feeds you the first few things you need to know. Once you’re over that conceptual hump you’ll invest in digging through docs that are slightly less approachable.My only criticism is that these two books don’t ship with the product. Mind you bolting a couple of books onto a Flex license isn’t exactly going to inflate its cost much.

  14. Jim Kohn says:

    Back in my Smalltalk days, as part of a new release ParcPlace released a documentation book called the SmallTalk cookbook. It was a very complete reference on how to complete very specific tasks. So when confronted with a coding problem (e.g how to create a ui grid) one could consult the cookbook and find a simple example as a reference. This was an excellent jumpstart to development and save alot of time. I’d like to see something similar for Flex rather then long tutorials.

  15. Peter Ent says:

    I tend to learn by doing and the Explorer examples were helpful at the beginning – which I’m sure was the intention. Now that we’re all pros, I think more complex examples are handy.I’ve made some of projects available on my site, which I hoped have helped.I guess you can never have too many examples. Perhaps some repository of examples – large and small – with good search capabilities.

  16. Tariq Ahmed says:

    I’m actually pretty impressed with the level of support Macromedia has been provided to the community. They seem to realize that the faster they can enable people getting good at the technology, the more it will proliferate. But I agree with some of the other comments related to screen cap examples; that drives me crazy… point me at the actual app.What I loved about cold fusion was the documentation. There was the reference, and then there was the guide. All you had to do was look up in the guide for what you wanted to do and there was an example of how to do it, plus mentions of related or supporting functions. The Java DOC way of doing things is great on the automation side of things, but only gives you bits and pieces of information at a time andyou need to traverse the structure like crazy till you’ve put together all the knowledge you need.Just more and more how-tos. I love the Flex Explorer by the way.

  17. Abdul Qabiz says:

    I would like to see more code snippets or inline code examples while some topics or feature being explained in the documents.This way, when I am reading about a feature or component I can see some real example and I know more about its usage. I tend to see API reference most of the times and i hardly have time to go through a long tutorial. So, such inline code example would help me…cheers,Abdul

  18. farzad says:

    hi!i would like to know how to build a community with flex and coldfusion mx 7. within the community should ofcourse be a forum and a guestbook and many pages where we can write our comments.but these of course in the flex builder and cf enviroment.thx