Getting down to details: Using theories of cognition and learning to inform tangible user interface design

Alissa N. Antle, Alyssa F. Wise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many researchers have suggested that tangible user interfaces (TUIs) have potential for supporting learning. However, the theories used to explain possible effects are often invoked at a very broad level without explication of specific mechanisms by which the affordances of TUIs may be important for learning processes. Equally problematic, we lack theoretically grounded guidance for TUI designers as to what design choices might have significant impacts on learning and how to make informed choices in this regard. In this paper, we build on previous efforts to address the need for a structure to think about TUI design for learning by constructing the Tangible Learning Design Framework. We first compile a taxonomy of five elements for thinking about the relationships between TUI features, interactions and learning. We then briefly review cognitive, constructivist, embodied, distributed and social perspectives on cognition and learning and match specific theories to the key elements in the taxonomy to determine guidelines for design. In each case, we provide examples from previous work to explicate our guidelines; where empirical work is lacking, we suggest avenues for further research. Together, the taxonomy and guidelines constitute the Tangible Learning Design Framework. The framework advances thinking in the area by highlighting decisions in TUI design important for learning, providing initial guidance for thinking about these decisions through the lenses of theories of cognition and learning, and generating a blueprint for research on testable mechanisms of action by which TUI design can affect learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalInteracting with Computers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • cognition
  • cognitive theories
  • design framework
  • design guidelines
  • design knowledge
  • design research
  • embodied interaction
  • learning
  • learning theories
  • natural user interfaces
  • physicality
  • tangible computing
  • tangible interaction
  • tangible user interfaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction


Dive into the research topics of 'Getting down to details: Using theories of cognition and learning to inform tangible user interface design'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this