A Systematic Review of Empirical Studies on Teaching Computational Thinking from a Learning Design Perspective

Fan Xu & Ana-Paula Correia

Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.

Since it was proposed by Seymour Papert in 1980, computational thinking is no longer just a skill necessary for computer scientists and engineers. It is believed that children should be equipped with computational thinking skills to solve complex multi-disciplinary problems. Therefore, coding, as “the easiest and most appropriate ways to teach computational thinking” has been introduced into K-12 and higher education systems in many countries. Scratch, a visual block-based coding language that is suitable for beginners, is the most popular tool to teach computational thinking. However, as in any new curriculum, how to teach and learn computational thinking in schools is still an under-researched issue.

The purpose of this systematic literature review is to: (1) categorize existing empirical studies about computational thinking cultivation with Scratch focusing on their learning design, and (2) analyze how to improve the teaching and learning of computational thinking from the perspective of a learning designer.

This systematic review follows Kitchenham and Charters‘ (2007) five steps: (1) research question definition, (2) search strategy design, (3) study selection, (4) data extraction, and (5) data synthesis. After selecting the studies for this review, they are evaluated based on their relevance to the topic.

Kitchenham and Charters’ five-step systematic review guidelines.

Kitchenham and Charters’ five-step systematic review.

According to Goodyear’s (2005) pedagogical framework, there are four tiers in a design: (1) philosophy, which is the belief on how learning happens (e.g., cognitivism or constructivism); (2) high-level pedagogy, which is the concrete instantiation of designers’ philosophy (e.g., problem-based learning); (3) pedagogical strategy, which is concerned with concrete actions; and (4) pedagogical tactics, which are the strategies to be used in a more meticulous granularity. This is the pedagogical framework that is being used to conduct the analysis of the studies identified for this review.

Three-level LD Structure and the Pedagogical Framework (Goodyear, 2005).

It is expected that this study will inform instructors of Scratch to create more effective learning designs to improve students’ computational thinking skills and literacy. The findings from this review will give teachers a design framework and guidance on how to select pedagogies, strategies, and learning activities to teach computational thinking. Besides, these findings will identify gaps in the literature and provide directions for future research.

This study was presented at the 2020 Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology Research Forum, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

Fan Xu presenting at the 2020 Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology Student Research Forum.


Goodyear, P. (2005). Educational design and networked learning: Patterns, pattern languages, and design practice. Australasian Journal of educational technology, 21(1), 82-101.

Kitchenham, B. & Charters, S. (2007). Guidelines for performing systematic literature reviews in software engineering. Retrieved from https://userpages.uni-koblenz.de/~laemmel/esecourse/slides/slr.pdf