I am starting a graduating project that is an interactive software for learning programming with an animated interface.

To be more specific, it's a software that should help students learning how to write simple programs in a programming language called C. Learning C at the beginning has its own benefits, so it's featured at many programming disciplines at universities, at least where I live. But there are some details in its syntax that may be obscure for beginners and lead to many errors and, therefore, it's an obstacle to focus on the 'big picture' of a problem, on the essence of a given solution.

Roughly anyone who is learning programming needs to deal with frustration, but I think that the issues I mentioned make things worse. Additionally, the software that is traditionally used for writing and running code is aesthetically poor (I remember how difficult it was to look to that screen for so long when I was a beginner). The result is that many students have a very negative feeling about programming.

So I decided to create a software that, along with some other features, is friendly on its visual aspect. One of the main features is that it allows to hide obscure elements, making an instruction simpler. Anytime, it's possible to expand that instruction and the obscure elements would change it's color, one by one, while some other elements would be colored and animated to indicate that there's a relationship envolved. That's the basic idea.

Many years ago, in 2005, my Calculus teacher, that used to like to speak about the way we learn things, mentioned a discovery about the importance of color and movement in the learning process. I heard a similar thing on the famous TED Talk from Ken Robinson, "Do schools kill creativity?". I never searched about it before, but the impression I have is that all these scientific conclusions broke with some formal and strict way of education.

I need a good article about this importance of visualization, colors and movement for two reasons. First, I think my teacher, that supervises my project, doesn't think all the 'fancy stuff' I proposed really have utility. Maybe, because, for my surprise, he wasn't aware about the discoveries I mentioned. Second, there's a formal procedure to submit the project and I need some reference to endorce it.

I found only books about this subject. Off course, it would be nice to read some of it, but for now I really need an article to start the project.


2 Answers 2


You asked for

an article that discusses the latest discoveries about how visualization, specially colors and moving images are important in the process of learning.


It would be nice to know about a good book about it, but for now I need to start the project and I need an article in first place.

There is one free open access article by Lindelani Mnguni (2014) which funnily enough has a book reference in the quote I am putting below.

"Chunking" is the name given to a technique used to remember things learnt, and Mnguni's article discusses how visualisation helps with chunking, along with the idea that:

there are at least four main factors that determine how humans “chunk” information, namely, closure, proximity, similarity and simplicity. The closure principle suggests that the mind tends to complete figures even in cases where information is missing. The principle of proximity (also referred to as the principle of contiguity) suggests that when visual features are placed closer to each other, they are perceived as a unit (Mullet and Sano 1995). According to the similarity principle, items that have commonalities such as shape, size, colour, texture and orientation are often grouped as belonging together (Mullet and Sano 1995). Finally, according to the simplicity principle, items are grouped together according to symmetry, regularity and smoothness. All these principles reflect the behaviour of the cognitive system towards new visual information that has been perceived. (Mnguni, 2014).

With regard to moving images, Mnguni also points out that:

McClean et al. (2005) present evidence showing that student retention of content material in biology education is improved when such content is presented via a lecture coupled with the animations and when an animation is used as an individual study activity.

McClean et al. (2005) is also available free.


McClean, P., Johnson, C., Rogers, R., Daniels, L., Reber, J., Slator, B. M., ... & White, A. (2005). Molecular and cellular biology animations: development and impact on student learning. Cell Biology Education, 4(2), 169-179.
DOI: 10.1187/cbe.04-07-0047 PMCID: PMC1103718 PMID: 15917875

Mnguni, L. E. (2014). The theoretical cognitive process of visualization for science education. SpringerPlus, 3(1), 184
DOI: 10.1186/2193-1801-3-184 PMCID: PMC4000355 PMID: 24790828

Mullet, K., & Sano, D. (1994). Designing visual interfaces: Communication oriented techniques. New Jersey: Prentice Hall


Chris' answer is relevant, but possibly digging more into psychology literature than needed for the given question. Note that the articles Chris links to do not state that 'by default' using colors and animations improves learning. Instead, what they indicate is that they can be put to good use if you take into account how the mind processes colors, spacing, and animations.

How to put colors, layout, and animations to good use, is what a big part of human factors, human-computer interaction, design, and user experience courses teach you. These fields (which also have academic publications) have already processed some of the relevant knowledge of psychology for you and have translated it into implications for design, typically distilled as design principles or heuristics.

With your given question in mind, the following set of principles seem relevant:

As to your concrete project, definitely have a look at what Bret Victor has been doing. His main premise is that computing systems should be much more interactive. He applied this specifically to programming in his article, "Learnable Programming". Interactivity (which also seems to be reflected in some of the features you shortly describe) might be much more important than 'just' improving the visual appeal.

Wickens, C. D., Gordon, S. E., Liu, Y., & Lee, J. (1998). An introduction to human factors engineering.

  • $\begingroup$ I will certainly learn a lot from and use all of the links you shared in my work. But I believe that my teacher and other teachers that are encharged of approving the project will ask for an article in oficial academic format. It's something that I need to start the project. I need to justify what I'm proposing with something more compact then a book. I always thought that this new vision of how our mind works was some kind of shifting paradigm and some articles would 'celebrate' it, despite being something that emerges from a vast collection of studies. $\endgroup$
    – user162208
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 3:49
  • $\begingroup$ @user162208 Sure, just make sure that the articles you provide are relevant to your topic. References are not 'scientific' by default. They need to tie in to your reasoning/argument! As I state in this answer: "the articles Chris links to do not state that 'by default' using colors and animations improves learning". If I were to supervise you and you would make your argument based on those articles, I would not be convinced. You could easily follow up on the sources I provided and find concrete articles; there are tons to choose from. Which one to choose depends largely on your argument. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree. I will search on the topics you mentioned, trying to find an article that comes also with cognitive science arguments. Chris answer talks about something more specific as visual literacy. It's true that I need something more generic. I just made the last try on this question to spend less time, since I am reaching the deadline and I my knowledge on the topic is superficial. $\endgroup$
    – user162208
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 11:02

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