Review and use of learning theories within computer science education research: primer for researchers and practitioners

Claudia Szabo, Nickolas Falkner, Andrew Petersen, Heather Bort, Kathryn Cunningham, Peter Donaldson, Arto Hellas, James Robinson, Judy Sheard

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

9 Citations (Scopus)


Computing education research is built on the use of suitable methods within appropriate theoretical frameworks to provide guidance and solutions for our discipline, in a way that is rigorous and repeatable. However, the scale of theory covered extends well beyond the computing discipline and includes educational theory, behavioural psychology, statistics, economics, and game theory, among others. The use of appropriate and discipline relevant theories can be challenging, and it can be easy to return to reuse familiar theory rather than investigate a new, more appropriate, area. To assist researchers in understanding how computing theory is currently used in the discipline and what theories might become of interest, we present in this paper a quantitative analysis of how learning theories are adapted in the computing education research communities. We search computing education venues for specific theory related keywords as well as for the citation of the influential paper describing each individual theory to identify popular theories and highlight gaps in use. We propose a template categorization of theories based on three main perspectives, namely, individual, group, and artefact, with several modifiers, and use this template to visualize general and computing education learning theories. To better understand theory connections we visualize the co-occurrence of learning theories in computing education research papers. Our analysis identifies three main theory communities focused respectively on social theories, experiential theories, and theories of mind. We also identify the strongest links within these communities, highlighting several avenues for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Working Group Reports on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education
EditorsBruce Scharlau, Roger McDermott
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery (ACM)
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781450368957, 9781450375672
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
EventAnnual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education - Working Groups Reports 2019 - Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Duration: 15 Jul 201917 Jul 2019 (Website) (Proceedings)


ConferenceAnnual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education - Working Groups Reports 2019
Abbreviated titleITiCSE-WGR 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Computing education
  • Epistemology
  • Learning theory

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