Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


Introduction In everyday use, the word 'learning' typically means "the action of acquiring knowledge" (Oxford English Dictionary, OED). Given this common definition, how learning occurs is the main problem upon which this thesis focuses. If within an educational system we adopt a goal of helping young people to learn, and assume a legal and moral responsibility to achieve this goal, then the question of how learning occurs is crucial, because it is from a logical theory that we can derive pedagogical practices which will (according to a theory) promote learning in young people, rather than hinder it, or render it inefficient. However, within education - in educational psychology and in particular, in pedagogic institutions - use of the word 'theory' is itself problematical. Used in the literature, 'theory' generally means a systematic explanation of a 'phenomenon' (e.g., a theory of reading), but in a more limited sense, it can also refer to an ideology, or a view (about, e.g., learning), which is more descriptive, rather than explanatory. (For a thorough analysis of the formal meaning of 'theory' in psychology, see Marx, 1976). By contrast, in the teaching profession, the term 'theory' (or theoretical) is often used, even in a derisive way, to denote a collection of alternative practices. These alternative practices are, in turn, derived from, or 'reflect', an alternative view (properly called a 'theory' in one sense). The word 'practice', conversely, only refers to established instructional methods (Munro, 1984). Thus for Munro, the so called 'debate' in education about theory and practice resolves into an "invective about 'airey fairey', 'trendy', 'theoretical' teachers ... and stolid comment on 'sound', 'practical', 'welltrained and safe' methods" (p. 90). That is, a forum that should be based, at least in part, upon (i) logical analysis of different 'theories', or views, of learning, and (ii) findings of systematic research, revolves instead around misuse and misinterpretation of terminology, and therefore confounds attempts at serious evaluation of different theories and practices.

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