Online programming course provides new insights into learning behaviour of children

News - 06 March 2017

It is better if parents do not get too involved when their children are learning to programme. This is one of the results of the research into the TU Delft online course (MOOC) which teaches programming to children. The research on the MOOC will be presented at the prestigious ICSE Conference in Buenos Aires at the end of May. 

Learning programming

Felienne Hermans and her colleagues are conducting research at TU Delft into how children learn programming. ‘We believe that courses for children tend to focus too much on whether certain computer programs work and too little on teaching more general skills for making good software. This is why we created a Dutch-language massive open online course (MOOC) for children. In the course, they learn Scratch, a simple programming language for children. The course teaches them to understand and use Scratch.’


The MOOC includes videos and tasks that enable children to learn programming independently. Each week, they make a game: a maze, an aquarium, a Flappy Bird game and a kind of Super Mario. The course has been designed as a four-week programme, involving two to six hours of work each week. 

Large-scale research

‘No fewer than 2,200 children took part in the first round of this MOOC. Normally, our kind of research takes place in a class of 30 children, so this meant we had far more children than usual. Among the things we investigated were whether it is harder to learn general software engineering concepts than how to write a program. And we found that these software engineering concepts are in fact even easier to learn. Aspects of software engineering include, for example, a good ability to fix bugs, to recognise if a code is no longer being used, and the habit of removing redundant blocks of code. This keeps the program uncluttered so that it is easier for someone else to work on it further.’


‘We also looked at age differences in learning. It turns out that many programming concepts become easier after the age of 12. But interestingly, before the age of 12, there isn't much difference. It was also funny that we found children stopped the course earlier if there was a parent around who got involved.’

Primary school

The MOOC is offered by TU Delft free of charge. Hermans: 'TU Delft and other universities have been developing free online courses for several years, but this was the first for primary school pupils and the first in Dutch. Programming is an important skill for the future. There is already a major shortage of programmers, and this is expected to grow.'

The MOOC is still available 

Additional information

Please, contact Felienne Hermans, tel +(0)15 278 7750, e-mail: or Karen Collet, press officer TU Delft, tel. +(0)15 278 5408, e-mail: