What is the best way to learn Drupal?

Drupal is like a living, breathing organism, and the software grows and changes in small ways every several months. That being said, the CMS is surprisingly easy to learn.

Drupal is one of the most popular open-source content management systems used by web developers today. It’s often touted as the enterprise CMS of choice and is popular among businesses and organizations of all sizes.

But one common concern we hear is the level of difficulty that new Drupal users fear.

In actual fact, the logic Drupal uses is one of the simplest and most straight-forward in CMS web development. There’s really no reason to be concerned.

It might be a CMS heavyweight, but Drupal isn’t actually difficult to learn.

Let’s take a deeper look into this common concern, and explore what’s different about Drupal.

The Drupal learning curve

By reputation, Drupal’s learning curve is fairly steep. Whether that’s the case in reality, I’m still undecided upon.

I have used a variety of different content management systems in my time, mainly as a developer, but in other capacities too.

As far as I’m concerned, learning Drupal didn’t present as a challenge. In fact, having used and developed for WordPress, Joomla, and other content management systems, I personally found it easiest to learn.

WordPress undoubtably has an easier administration panel to navigate, and customizing Joomla code is pretty self-explanatory (using overrides), but as far as front and backend development, Drupal most certainly takes the cake for me.

The thing is, my opinion is quite far from the status quo. Most blogs online highlight the Drupal learning curve as being one of its main deterrents as far as its adoption rate by new users.

But alas, I disagree with this viewpoint. I don’t think Drupal is hard to learn.

Personally, I think the thing with “learning” Drupal is more to do with the differences in its logic, when compared to other content management systems.

There isn’t really a “similar” CMS to Drupal (at least, not one that is as popular, and open-source), in that it kind of behaves less like a CMS, and a bit more like an extendable, buildable framework.

With recent releases of Drupal, that’s even more so the case.

For those more accustomed to plug-in-and-play extensions, like the ones the WordPress community provide, I admit that Drupal may seem a little daunting, initially.

But once you begin to appreciate its flexibility, you’ll soon find yourself pleased to have escaped such cookie-cutter solutions.

In seeing Drupal as more of a platform, empowering you with the resources to build practically any kind of web-based solution, you’re soon likely to soon get past the perception of its difficulty, which is so frequently spoken about.

Why is Drupal so difficult to learn?

Having said that, I still appreciate that for many developers, Drupal May still prove a challenge to learn.

Ultimately, regardless of my views, there are still many forum posts around the web asking the question.

So, I accept that for whatever reason, there are developers who have a tough time getting to grips with Drupal development.

I maintain the belief, however, that the problem is one largely of perception. Since Drupal isn’t aiming to provide the same solution to content management as “rivals” like WordPress and Joomla, developers probably shouldn’t expect the process to be the same.

Drupal has its own logic to content management, content display, and integration.

The logic does make a lot of sense, and is far less messy than the methods employed by other content management systems. Providing that developers appreciate this, and don’t expect the same of Drupal as they do of WordPress, the learning curve starts to feel more reasonable.

You shouldn’t be using Drupal instead of WordPress, you should be using it because you’re developing a solution very different to one you might have built using WordPress.

Learning Drupal for free vs paid

There are indeed many avenues you can use to learn Drupal. Becoming proficient in the software as a self-taught developer is especially a feat.

However, there are a lot more productive, efficient, and time-effective solutions to learning the CMS.

Many online Drupal resources for learning are free. The likes of official (and unofficial) documentation, tutorials, and video guides are available across the web.

Many of these are free, and one of the biggest reasons for this is due to the fact that Drupal itself is a free, open-source software.

However, there are frequent complaints from developers regarding the perceived lack of depth and information Drupal officially provides. Sometimes this is the case, and a frequently even I have felt that Drupal’s own development and API guides are lacking, leading me to instead scour StackExchange or popular Drupal blogs for hints and solutions to my Drupal queries.

This is, admittedly, one of the issues with free software.

Free software usually means free support and documentation.

As a result, you’ll have to shell out some cash for a more premium learning experience. That doesn’t mean to say that paid Drupal courses and tuition doesn’t have to be expensive.

In fact, many online Drupal colleges operate at very reasonable, competitive price points. But it’s just something to note.

Paying for your education in Drupal night prove to be more efficient and time productive, since you have all the tools and resources at your disposal, and they’re all in the same place.

Additionally, you won’t have to face the challenge of scouring the web for free educational information like I did. And sometimes, free learning can be a pain, not least because the answers aren’t always so easy to find online.

Therefore, paid education and Drupal schooling could definitely prove to be worth your while and is definitely an avenue to consider.

Community-driven Drupal learning

Drupal’s thriving community is a great resource. The amount of knowledge and information that is made available by the Drupal community is practically limitless.

Of course, the immediate benefits of making use of the Drupal community as a source for education would be its accessibility and the fact that it’s free.

And you can’t beat that.

There are countless community-driven resources that you can make use of—some of which are officially provided by Drupal, and others not.

One of the best things about accessing the community for educational purposes is that you’ll often discover a range of solutions to any given problem.

If one solution doesn’t fit your requirements quite as well as it must, you can hunt for an alternative.

Although to be honest, I don’t reckon you’ll have to do much “hunting”. Google is ripe with results of community support for near-enough every situation.

Some great community-based learning resources:

Self-taught Drupal learning

By far, the best way to learn anything is by building experience.

Drupal is like a living, breathing organism, and the software grows and changes in small ways every several months. The Drupal that is available today is a very different piece of software than it was several years ago.

You’re probably best placed to enter into Drupal with some prior background knowledge or experience in web development first, preferably in PHP.

Since Drupal 8 has now been re-written and makes use of the popular Symfony framework, developers with previous experience with Symfony and Twig are likely to find learning Drupal 8 development a lot smoother.

But either way, the differences are easy to pick up with a brief look at the codebase.

Drupal is indeed a heavy and powerful piece of software, and therefore might not be the best first-time resource for novices or those new to the web development field.

To become proficient in backend Drupal development, you’ll benefit greatly from a general experience of front and backend web development first.

That being said, the CMS makes it admittedly easy to learn its workings for those not already accustomed to Drupal and the way it handles information.

As long as you have a background in general website administration and web development, you shouldn’t find it too taxing to get to grips with.

Learning Drupal for free online

For further education, there are plentiful guides, YouTube tutorials, books and similar resources available online. By far, though, is the knowledge and experience the Drupal community is able to provide, to help usher along your learning of the CMS.

Drupal’s StackExchange forum is a great place to find help and seek advice in any area of Drupal site building and development, with hundreds of keen developers frequently assisting their colleagues and peers.

However, the best insight of all is definitely Drupal’s official website, which is home to a community of millions of seasoned developers and Drupal enthusiasts from around the globe.

Drupal.org provides an abundance of well-written documentation and guidance, offered by none less than Drupal’s official team as well as contributors to the Drupal project and all of its contributed extensions, such as its prolific catalog of free, open-source modules.

The informative articles provided by the Drupal community are a brilliant place to start, especially if you are just breaking into Drupal development — or working with the CMS in any capacity, mind you.

Practicing your Drupal skills

One useful tip is to set up a development environment where you can experiment with the CMS.

This limits your learning process to a ‘safe space’ (also known as a sandbox), instead of using a live website or production environment to learn.

Practice is key, and with Drupal, you’re soon bound to get the hang of it.

In many ways, Drupal shares the same methodology across all areas of the CMS, in how it works and the logic it uses. This is definitely a bonus to fledgling Drupal enthusiasts.

Once you become familiar with this, it won’t be long until you have built a solid rapport with the software, and Drupal’s extended capabilities and strengths will become gradually apparent.

Practicing using a development environment can be even more productive if you opt to create a sample website using Drupal, perhaps using dummy content to perform tests and experiment with making customizations.

There are multiple job roles associated with maintaining a Drupal website. Some typical examples are:

  • Content managers
  • Site builders
  • Website administrators, and
  • Drupal developers

Learning how to theme Drupal

An easy way to spin up a Drupal site with demo or dummy content is to invest in a premium Drupal theme, which comes pre-packaged with sample nodes and a variety of page types.

Our Drupal themes, for example, also ship with comprehensive documentation files to guide even beginners with using and customizing Drupal, and detailed steps on how to modify and extend your Drupal site.

Overall, there are many ways to learn Drupal. It isn’t nearly as daunting to learn as some have made out, and there are a huge amount of educational resources available for beginners online.

Once you get to grips with the logic Drupal uses, it will be fairly easy to understand all areas of the CMS.

In fact, we bet it won’t be long before Drupal becomes second nature to you. You’ll find yourself wondering what you ever did without it.

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