Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Author's School

McKelvey School of Engineering

Author's Department

Computer Science & Engineering

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Type



Application programming interfaces (APIs) are essential to modern software development, and new APIs are frequently being produced. Consequently, software developers must regularly learn new APIs, which they typically do on the job from online resources rather than in a formal educational context. The Kelleher–Ichinco COIL model, an acronym for “Collection and Organization of Information for Learning,” was recently developed to model the entire API learning process, drawing from information foraging theory, cognitive load theory, and external memory research. We ran an exploratory empirical user study in which participants performed a programming task using the React API with the goal of validating and refining this model. Our results support the predictions made by the COIL model, especially the role of external memory in the API learning process. Participants extensively used browser tabs to store web resources in external memory, but their behavior suggests some inefficiencies that incur extraneous cognitive load.


English (en)


Caitlin Kelleher

Committee Members

Caitlin Kelleher Alvitta Ottley Dennis Cosgrove


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