Instead of teaching kids to code an app, we should use no-code to teach them how to build a digital product.
In The Netherlands, the new school year is just a week old. A good time to write about a no-code workshop we gave for a group of 12-year olds at a local elementary school.
Apart from the fact that it’s great seeing kids getting creative with no-code tools, we wanted to give them a sense of empowerment. Making app-building a visual experience, keeps it accessible and fun. It also provides opportunities beyond programming with blended design and even marketing. More on that later.
Teach them to understand the why and how of an app. Encourage them to think creatively without constraints and get them to see results quickly. This is what no-code has to offer.
Instead of teaching kids programming languages and how to write code, we feel the focus should instead be on getting them to understand how apps work. Who are their intended users? What functionality do those apps require? This is in essence the difference between coding and programming; knowing what to build and why versus ‘simply’ developing with code.
No- and low-code app building solutions can act as a great gateway into traditional coding but no-code can even open up new career paths within companies. Being able to translate a business process into a digital system or uncover new markets by launching a digital product are projects that are increasingly attainable by marketers or product managers.
For kids, no-code is a very low barrier entry into a world they know all to well as a consumer. The visual programming makes it a lot easier to get them excited about creating apps themselves. We wanted these kids to walk away from our workshop knowing:
- about the difference between coding and programming.
- the simple mechanics of apps like WhatsApp and Instagram and gain an ‘under the hood’ understanding.
- how to build a functioning app.
At the end of the 1,5 hour workshop, four out of the eight groups had built a functioning chat app.
We had eight groups of four kids with each their own device and one Bubble app per group. Each app contained a very simple example: an input, a button and a data feed.
After going through the workflow of entering a message, telling the button on click to save the message in the database and displaying the message in the feed, it was their turn to create their own interpretation of WhatsApp or Instagram.
At the end of the 1,5 hour workshop, four out of the eight groups had built a functioning chat app. They used it among their classmates and some even expanded on the concept and added the ability to send images to each other.
The reactions we see from kids interacting with the platform are really the same we see from our clients when introducing them to no-code. These are the 5 most interesting.
- Kids love games
Not surprisingly, the first, second and third question we got was: “Can you use this to create games?” Obviously, no Fortnite but it’s definitely possible to create a game. Maybe something for the next workshop!
- Instant results motivate
Kids demand instant results from their actions. They lose interest very quickly if things do not behave logically in their minds. This is why no-code is so interesting; previewing your hard work takes just a single click.
- They felt empowered
They had a hard time believing they could type in the URL to their app on their phone and actually use the app. These kids communicate all day, but it is something entirely different when you receive a text message from your classmate through an app you built yourself.
- If it ain’t visual, it ain’t much
The app editor quickly turned into a collection of cartoon characters, memes and other random images from the web. While not directly contributing to the functionality of their apps, they had a lot of fun ‘designing’. Something that helped leave a positive impression of the workshop and allowed them to really customize their apps.
- No-code’s blended design and development caters to their broad range of interests
Even the kids who were less interested in the technical side of things had a good time coming up with marketing strategies for their app. They were discussing how to name the app and what colors and styles to use for their branding. No-code app building solutions give users the freedom to create apps in any order they like.
This freedom is especially important in trying to get kids excited about building digital products. If they want to spend the hour making their app look good and worry less about actual functionality, that is a great learning experience. Next time, they will be more motivated to build more functionality into their creation.
The web is full of people advocating the importance of teaching coding to kids. Schools have started to add coding into their curriculum. Getting kids to learn technical IT-skills is a point of discussion in politics and TV shows across the world.
While we feel it’s important to teach kids basics and fundamentals, we think the subject can allude to a broader range of children by looking at coding more holistically as programming. It will help getting more kids excited about a career in digital tech. Or not, but at least they (and we) had fun testing the waters!
This workshop shows that no-code is so much more than just a substitute for a traditional programming language. No-code enables many other disciplines (like designers, marketers and product managers) to take on the developer role. And that is a true game changer.