Songs: Smaller Batches in eLearning

Posted July 19, 2011 by Joshua Kerievsky

As you may know, our online learning ( uses a music metaphor in which our content is organized into albums, box sets, playlists, compilations, etc.

Every album we have is composed of tracks.

We've recently been measuring how long it takes people to get through our tracks.

Some of our tracks take, on average, about 20 minutes while others (especially the ones with programming exercises) can take up to two hours.

When was the last time you listened to a 20 minute song?

Listening To The Metaphor

If popular songs are 2-5 minutes in length, what could we do to make our tracks more like songs?

45 RPM Single

I started to answer that question by looking at our popular Code Smells album.

In that album, we had a track called Common Code Smells, which contained 20 pages of information, quizzes and videos on the following smells:

  • Dead Code
  • Duplicated Code
  • Comment
  • Long Method
  • Large Class

5 out of the 20 pages were on the Long Method smell.

I wondered what it would be like if Long Method was its own track?

But just calling the track "Long Method" sounded boring.

What would make it feel more like a song?

Then it hit me: "The Long and Winding Code" (based of the popular Beatles song, The Long and Winding Road).

I liked that so much that I went on a search for song titles for every smell in our Code Smells album.

Here is the result of that work:

Dead CodeThis Is The End, Beautiful FriendThe Doors
Duplicated CodeOops!...I Did It AgainBritney Spears
CommentCommunication BreakdownLez Zeppelin
Long MethodThe Long and Winding CodeThe Beatles
Large ClassWelcome to the JungleGuns N' Roses
Oddball SolutionWhen You're StrangeThe Doors
Primitive ObsessionIf I Had A HammerLee Hays and Pete Seeger
Switch StatememtThe Choice Remains The SameLed Zeppelin
Speculative GeneralityYou Can't Always Guess What They WantRolling Stones
Long Parameter ListToo Much InformationThe Police
Conditional ComplexityTangled Up In BlueBob Dylan
Combinatorial ExplosionHere, There and EverywhereThe Beatles
Alternative Classes With Different InterfacesYou Say Tomato, I Say TomhatoLouis Armstrong
Inappropriate IntimacyDon't Stand So Close To MeThe Police
Indecent ExposureHello, I Love YouThe Doors
Refused BequestDon't Pass Me ByThe Beatles
Black SheepShould I Stay Or Should I Go?The Clash
Data ClassStill Haven't Found What I'm Looking ForU2
Solution SprawlAcross The UniverseThe Beatles
Feature EnvyI Wanna Hold Your HandThe Beatles
Temporary FieldEvery Little Thing You Do Is TragicThe Police
Side EffectDust In The WindKansas

Smaller Learning Batches

Since around 2007, my colleagues and I at Industrial Logic have been heavily influenced by Lean Software Development.

We've been reducing our own batch sizes of work to smaller and smaller amounts, which has led us (during the past year) to Continuous Deployment (i.e. every checkin to version control goes live to our site).

But what about our students?

We had not applied Lean thinking to the experience our students have, especially when they go through our online training.

Smaller tracks are small batches of learning.

So the song metaphor has helped us discover a way to make learning easier and more enjoyable for our students.

Testing, Testing, Testing

Since adopting the Lean Startup process, we are not content to just "hope" that students will like our shorter-length tracks (i.e. songs) better than the longer ones we used to have.

We have to measure it.

So in the following week we will be carefully measuring track completion rates and interviewing students to understand whether the song metaphor is helping or hurting their learning.