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Learnable Programming: Blocks and Beyond

Learnable Programming: Blocks and Beyond, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

A global push to broaden participation in computer science has led to an explosion of interest in blocks-based programming. Visual blocks are used by numerous programming tools (see the sidebar). Millions of students receive their first exposure to programming via these tools in courses and activities like's Hour of Code. Blocks allow beginners to compose programs without struggling with the frustrations of syntax (Figure 1).

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There is increasing interest in developing and studying blocks languages. At VL/HCC 2015, a small workshop session called Blocks and Beyonda ballooned to a large event, with 51 submissions and 36 presenters. Researchers shared work in new blocks languages, interface innovations, domain-specific applications of blocks, and ways to make blocks languages more effective and accessible for diverse coders.


Richard Ladner

Congratulation on this nice article extolling the learnability of block-based programming for young people. As noted in the article, visually oriented programming has made some of the basics of programming accessible to millions of young people. Unfortunately, the authors failed to mention any limitations of this approach for some young people who are blind or have mobility related disabilities. Block-based programming systems are generally not accessible to screen reader users and people with dexterity problems cannot easily use direct manipulation like drag and drop. The primary output of these systems are mostly visual animations of some sort. I don't have a problem with articles that promote a technology, as long as they discuss its limitations. This one misses a "limitations section."

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