Continuing to Think About Theory in Education

A theme that recurs in my blog and in my other writing is the importance of theory in education and educational planning. I maintain the position that theory is a vital part of teaching and learning and leadership because it helps us understand exactly what matters in what we do. We can focus on relevant factors and we can explain and predict what will happen when we adopt practices.

For many, “theory” is associated with incomplete or inaccurate ideas or speculations, so they tend to avoid it. This is unfortunate, as theory that has made it into the literature id likely to be quite complete and supported by multiple threads of evidence.

For me, one of the most important reasons we should ground our practice in theory is that we avoid red herrings when we are true to theory. “Red herrings” are those “things” we try to fix to improve our practice. Unfortunately, when we fix red herrings we are fixing things that have little effect on what we want to improve. Educators have a long history of fixing red herrings often at the advice of advocates who made piles of money helping schools implement their approach or at the advice of politicians or philanthropists who promised money to schools where the approach was implemented.

Theory can be complex and difficult to understand–if it is easy to apply, then it is probably not well-developed theory and if it doesn’t cause one to think more carefully about the nuances of one’s practice, then it surely is not relevant theory. For educators interested in teaching and learning with digital technologies, there are a number of relevant theories that help us understand the interactions that lead to learning:

interactions that lead to learningTbook coverhis image comes from Terry Anderson’s “Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies,” a chapter that was published in Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning:Foundations and Applications, a book published in 2016 by Athabasca University Press. In that chapter, Anderson provides clear and concise summaries of some of the theories that have influenced recent research and practice in technology teaching and learning.

The book is available for download: