Computing Education Theories: What Are They and How Are They Used?

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

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

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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 publicationInternational Computing Education Research Conference (ICER ’19), August 12–14, 2019, Toronto, ON, Canada
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)978-1-4503-6185-9
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2019
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventACM Conference on International Computing Education Research - Toronto, Canada
Duration: 12 Aug 201914 Aug 2019
Conference number: 15


ConferenceACM Conference on International Computing Education Research
Abbreviated titleICER
Internet address


  • computing education
  • theory
  • theoretical construct
  • research
  • method


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