Computing education theories: what are they and how are they used?

Lauri Malmi, Judy Sheard, Päivi Kinnunen, . Simon, Jane Sinclair

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


In order to mature as a research field, computing education research (CER) seeks to build a better theoretical understanding of how students learn computing concepts and processes. Progress in this area depends on the development of computing-specific theories of learning to complement the general theoretical understanding of learning processes. In this paper we analyze the CER literature in three central publication venues – ICER, ACM Transactions of Computing Education, and Computer Science Education – over the period 2005–2015. Our findings identify new theoretical constructs of learning computing that have been published, and the research approaches that have been used in formulating these constructs. We identify 65 novel theoretical constructs in areas such as learning/understanding, learning behaviour/strategies, study choice/orientation, and performance/progression/retention. The most common research methods used to devise new constructs include grounded theory, phenomenography, and various statistical models. We further analyze how a number of these constructs, which arose in computing education, have been used in subsequent research, and present several examples to illustrate how theoretical constructs can guide and enrich further research. We discuss the implications for the whole field.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2019 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research
EditorsRobert McCartney, Anthony Robins
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery (ACM)
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781450361859
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventInternational Computing Education Research Conference 2019 - Toronto, Canada
Duration: 12 Aug 201914 Aug 2019
Conference number: 15th (Proceedings)


ConferenceInternational Computing Education Research Conference 2019
Abbreviated titleICER 2019
Internet address


  • Computing education
  • Method
  • Research
  • Theoretical construct
  • Theory

Cite this