Beginners’ mental models of a programming language

Jones, Ann (1987). Beginners’ mental models of a programming language. In: Jones, Ann; Scanlon, Eileen and O'Shea, Tim eds. The Computer Revolution in Education: New Technologies in Distance Education. Brighton: Harvester Press, pp. 198–213.


In line with many other institutions, the Open University is responding to the demands of new technologies by producing not only courses which teach about the use of microelectronics but also training courses aimed at teachers using micros in schools, both as tools to aid learning and to teach programming concepts.

If we are going to make a reasonable job of teaching programming concepts, we must consider how programming is learnt; and, if a major audience is that of beginners, then we need to look at how novices learn their first programming language. This chapter discusses a study of how novices begin to learn programming in an environment which has been designed to tackle the thorny problem of teaching novices programming at a distance. It is concerned with the detailed investigation of students' learning, and producing models of that learning. The end point here is to use these models to improve instructional materials for teaching at a distance.

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