On the Role of Learning Theories in Furthering Software Engineering Education

On the Role of Learning Theories in Furthering Software Engineering Education

Emily Oh Navarro (University of California, Irvine, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-102-5.ch003


Learning theories describe how people learn. There is a large body of work concerning learning theories on which to draw, a valuable resource of which the domain of software engineering educational research has thus far not taken full advantage. In this chapter, we explore what role learning theories could play in software engineering education. We propose that learning theories can move the field of software engineering education forward by helping us to categorize, design, evaluate, and communicate about software engineering educational approaches. We demonstrate this by: (1) surveying a set of relevant learning theories, (2) presenting a categorization of common software engineering educational approaches in terms of learning theories, and (3) using one such approach (SimSE) as a case study to explore how learning theories can be used to improve existing approaches, design new approaches, and structure and guide the evaluation of an approach.
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Background: Learning Theories

To provide some background for our discussion on the role of learning theories in software engineering education, in this section we will briefly introduce the set of learning theories that we surveyed for the purposes of our analysis. We do not include here an exhaustive list of all learning theories with significant detail. Instead, the purpose of this section is to simply introduce some of the ones we have seen software engineering educational approaches centered around most frequently, and provide pointers to where more information about each one can be found. In addition, we will also briefly touch on implications and typical or possible applications of each theory for software engineering education.

We chose the particular set of learning theories discussed here because of two criteria: relevancy to software engineering and orthogonality among the factors defining the theory. In other words, these theories are the ones we have seen to be most clearly and/or frequently embodied in the software engineering educational approaches that we surveyed. Furthermore, there exists a great deal of overlap among learning theories, and there are several learning theories that encompass a number of others. In these cases, we either group theories that have the same basic idea, and omit those that simply combine a number of theories.

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