Parents often wonder what the difference between graphic-based and text-based coding languages is. They also wonder why kids start with visual-based languages instead of text-based ones.
A programming language is a technical language which is used to code various instructions to ensure that a program functions in a certain way.
There are different kinds of programming languages such as Java, C++, Python, etc which are used in different contexts. Though the concepts and structure vary across the coding languages, the concept is quite similar to our languages.
Like how ‘Comment allez-vous’ (French), ‘cómo estás’ (Spanish) mean the same as ‘how are you’ in English, similarly, coding languages look and are structured differently but give the same output.
The difference Explained: Graphical Vs Text Based Coding
Though most languages are text-based, there is also a significant range of visual-based languages as well.
Visual-based programming languages are ones that allow for manipulation of program components graphically. It allows programming with visual expressions, spatial arrangements of text and graphic symbols. For example, a lot of graphic languages are based on the idea of boxes and arrows, where any screen object is treated as an entity, connected by arrows, lines or arcs representing relations.
Text-based coding, on the other hand, requires extended lines of code to create a program. It is done by writing numerous characters from a syntax or using codes that are decipherable by specific coding languages.
Why the preference?
There are many reasons why it is preferred for kids to start with graphic based coding
At the beginning stage, it is preferred to use graphic-based languages to learn to code, like Scratch, Open Roberta, etc. Scratch is a visual programming language, which uses blocks, that aims at making coding easier for kids. People who use this language or site can make projects using the block-like interface. It is relatively more readable for those who have just been introduced to coding. The blocks on Scratch are usually very direct which makes it easy to guess what the blocks do, making it convenient to use. Despite its looking less like a text editor when compared with the text-based code, students prefer blocks-based representation as it is closer to English than its text-based counterpart.
2. Easy to use
One of the pros of using graphic language is that kids do not have to always tediously recall a list of complex commands or structures.
For professionals, it is easy as their time is devoted to programming. They have pre-existing knowledge of syntax and complex commands and find it easier to recall the same. For kids, however, it is difficult as they have other commitments, such as school, homework and studying. A little time is devoted daily to coding but is not enough to make significant progress in a day.
This makes it difficult for them to recall.
Therefore, it is easier for them to learn graphic-based languages which are easier to recall. This is possible in a well-integrated system, where the kid spends ample time with coding to be able to grasp concepts. For example, in Scratch, programs are created by dragging together pre-existing blocks that have instructions pre-written on them.
Text-based languages require more typing, which gives room for increased errors. Typos or even mixing up special characters can break an entire program. Every character, alphabet or symbol, has different meanings and can change the complete course of the program.
Good editors can help spot errors, but sites like Scratch help with working directly with coding concepts instead of having to break it down into text. Kids usually do not have access to premium tools and end up struggling with errors.
4. Graphic based coding is not dumb
Professional programmers often assume graphic based coding is a dumbed-down version of programming.
However, in reality, graphics-based coding removes details that are irrelevant and makes coding easier and more interesting for a first-time approach to coding
Instead of getting frustrated over a missing colon or comma, kids are able to spend more time envisioning their project and understanding the logic behind the same. It helps them think more clearly and rationally.
The difficulty of the graphics-based program is dependent on the learner, who can choose the intensity of the projects and increase or decrease it accordingly.
It can be quite frustrating for a kid who is good at coding games using graphic languages to shift to an environment where it’s relatively harder to create similar games. Harder does not necessarily mean better.
5. Technical know-how
When using text-based languages, it is important to know and understand basic coding concepts before moving ahead. This is extremely important, especially if the child is learning from an online course. Online learning forums usually tend to use programming lingo.
For complex coding languages like C++, the child should have proper knowledge of headers, objects, functions, classes among others before going in-depth.
However, with graphic based coding, the learning process is made easier for the child, to ensure that the child has a rooted interest in coding before moving to text-based coding.
6. Preference of the child
Kids these days prefer to be in a graphical environment, something that is fun for them and what motivates them to push forward and put in comparatively less hard work. Text-based learning can seem quite dry. Children tend to learn better with visual and kinesthetic training. Hands-On experience of coding coupled with graphic based languages will help retain the attention and interest of the child. Visual learners learn best when they find relevant content with visual appeal. They are quick to choose a visual lesson over plain textual ones. Kinesthetic learners love engaging with interactive content and learning for themselves.
Kids find typing overrated. Coding is quite different from English. Though complex, there are not many words, phrases and syntax rules. Creating graphics for the existing ones is time efficient and prevents new programmers from feeling frustrated due to errors. In text-based coding, a small mistake will not allow the program to run. This leads to frustration and disinterest. Graphic based coding allows beginners to focus their energy on the structure and logic of their programs, not the semantics.
The kids will be driven to continue with coding once they realise that they can create their own video games or understand how their favourite games run. They do not have to be compelled into learning with homework or assignments.
Many kids are introduced to touch-based gadgets at a young age. Graphic based languages help the child interact and understand the technicalities better.
Graphic-based is not only for kids. Many adults also use visual-based programming to get work done. Graphical languages are efficient and fun to use for occasional tasks. Coding is inevitably becoming a part of daily life. Gaming engines often integrates graphical coding with text-based coding for minor detailing. The main aim is to enhance kids skills to use their skills for digital projects and to teach them skills that apply to whichever coding language they use. It is important to understand that graphics-based languages are not substitutes for text-based coding languages. Hopefully, kids who learn to code today will end up using graphical languages in their jobs and hobbies along with textual ones, to get maximum creative and effective content.