My proposed theory of causation for online learning success

After reading the Dooley (2001) reading about theories and constructs, I decided to draw up a mock theory based on my own proposed research question. Below is the result:


Steps in making & using theory – adapted from Dooley (2001)

In Figure 1, the straight single headed arrows assert a causal link. In my example, academic ability and effective learning strategies would affect online learning success – ie a causal link – but a learner could have either one or the other to be successful and not necessarily both. This is indicated by the curved double headed arrow that indicates there is no claim that academic ability and effective learning strategies are necessarily related.  Motivation and online learning success have reciprocal causation as learners would be motivated if they are successful online learners and also if their motivation is what causes their online learning success. Support provides learners with indirect causation as it might motivate (intervening variable) to obtain online learning success.

In Figure 2, I have taken one theoretical variable, effective learning strategies, to propose that these can lead to success in online learning. The square boxes indicated the constructs made concrete so that they can be observed. For learning strategies, qualitative data can be gathered by asking learners what learning strategies they used. Quantitative data can be gather in the form of grades and course completion to indicate online learning success.

Should I use this proposed theory, I can see how pragmatism would be the most suitable paradigm as I would be able to gather qualitative and quantitative data. Based on the results propose effective learning strategies are incorporated into online design as one practical result of the theory.


Dooley, D 2001, ‘Theory : tentative explanations’, chapter 4 in Social research methods, 4th edn, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, pp. 58–72.

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