The top 3 problems with learning programming online

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How a programming class at Early Coders looks like

Technological advancements have given rise to a plethora of online platforms that seek to provide free education to all those with internet access. These online platforms are hence affectionately termed MOOCs: Massively Open Online Courses.

Subjects ranging from STEM subjects to even liberal arts are being provided through the use of media like videos and lecture notes made free via these learning platforms. In recent years, programming has become a particularly hot subject on these MOOC platforms.

What are MOOCs?

What are MOOCs? [Credits: LinkedIn]

At Early Coders Academy, we’ve heard from people who’ve given up on learning programming halfway through consuming such MOOC courses. This phenomenon occurs more frequently than we would expect.

According to statistics collected by, we notice that MOOC course completion rates for programming floats around the 20% and below mark. This is indeed shocking, and unprecedented.

Shouldn’t the idea of “free education” be enough to propel one to want to learn, and to complete it? Being the curious folks that we are, we’ve decided to go on to interview some of these folks that fail to complete programming courses. Here, we’ve collated and present to you the top 3 problems with learning programming online:

1) Lack of mentors

How a programming class at Early Coders looks like

Careful mentoring is the key to learning success!

The lack of a great mentor is pretty much one of the bigger reasons why most people give up, halfway into learning programming. Programming is not a simple topic to grasp, and anybody who says programming is easy, falls under either one of the 2 categories:

a) He/she is speaking from hindsight bias,

b) He/she has a “Genius-like” learning aptitude. For the most of us, we fall under neither of these 2 categories, and this is why having a mentor is so important to us. For the moments where we encounter tough programming problems that we are unable to solve, MOOCs do not always provide the avenues for us to solve such problems.

As a result of this, MOOC learners tend to become increasingly distressed with the prospect of having to deal with something that they can’t easily find answers for. Most give up, which explains the low completion rates on MOOCs.

For those that decide to stick it through, they have something that the rest do not, and that is Passion. With passion, these individuals can find it deep within themselves to grit their teeth and continue the learning by spending easily 2 times the amount of time most people spend. In case, it isn’t obvious enough, MOOCs cannot teach you passion, mentors can imbue you with passion.

Passion is an all-important part in learning. As an educated society, haven’t we all experienced that eureka moment in learning? Being able to do well in Mathematics/Sciences/Arts subjects makes us passionate in them, because we feel good about it. An analogy of having Mentors VS MOOCs would be: would you rather have a nice road paved for you to reach your destination, OR would you rather have a jungle of trees, a series of detour, and a dissuading harsh environment? Some people prefer the latter, but hey, we don’t all have the time in the world to waste on detours do we?

“MOOCs cannot teach you passion, mentors can imbue you with passion”

2) Learning mismatched with intent

When people attend a MOOC, they join for a variety of reasons. There may be the intention to learn Game development, to learn Web Application development, Mobile App development etc.

However, due to the technical nature of learning programming, more often than not, there are prerequisites to learning. Essentially, there is a learning roadmap, which is not immediately clear to learners on MOOCs.

How many of you have taken up CS101 with the intention to learn anything other than CS101? I believe there are many, and these people eventually give up when they realise that what they are learning has no relevance to what they actually intend to learn. Learning well is all about understanding the big picture.

The failure to understand the big picture tends to demoralise learners as they have no clue where they are in the sea of knowledge. Heck, they don’t even know how much more they need to learn in order to reach the capabilities of what they wish to create.

“Learning is all about understanding the big picture”

3) Inflexibility of learning

The learning content of MOOCs is not customised to the learning styles and pace of individuals. This becomes a huge problem for learners because they don’t feel understood.

And when that happens, it gets demoralising because MOOCs tend to teach in a one-dimensional manner. The learning platform cannot conform to the way you wish to learn.

Some people prefer practices, while others prefer understanding the theory. These eLearn videos do not understand your weaknesses, and neither do you understand your own weaknesses. This brings us back to our first pointer, where talked about the value of having a mentor. A mentor is able to weed out the inconsistencies and weaknesses of an individual when learning programming. Since MOOCs are not able to do so, learning becomes a pain for students, and this pain is converted into the high “give-up” rates that we observe.

Just like how piano lessons are structured, we can always choose to learn piano online, or we can choose to get an instructor to teach us. The biggest difference between the both approaches being that, an instructor can choose to teach us differently due to the small size of our hands, or even to teach us based on our aptitude in learning music!

At the end of it all…

There are of course a whole lot more reasons why MOOCs are not optimal for learning programming. The above are the reasons that we have collated from after having talked to many people who face problems with trying to self-learn programming. This isn’t comprehensive, but it should compel you to understand that anybody can learn programming. BUT, learning programming from MOOCs is not for everyone.

“Anybody can learn programming, but not everybody can learn programming from MOOCs”

At Early Coders Academy, we have top notch mentors that have the industry experience to help learners map their learning intent into customised educational content. With our industry validated curriculum, we’re positioned perfectly to provide our students with top-notch education. This is what differentiates us from MOOCs. Take up learning programming with us today, to learn twice as fast as MOOC learners (time is important!), and to learn twice as deep as MOOC learners (depth of knowledge is also important!). Learn with us to build your own pet projects, or even to create the next Facebook or Google!


Get Your Child Educated

Early Coders Academy is the premier programming school in Singapore. We believe in delivering high quality and relevant lessons to our students. We offer a free one-month trial, and you pay only when you are satisfied! Weekly programming courses now available.


On this note:

If you have any questions regarding programming, be sure to email us your questions at [email protected]! We’d be more than happy to break it down for you.

Written by Ian Lam, Early Coders Academy

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