What is the Use of Educational Theory?

08 Dec 2019 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

What is the Use of Educational Theory?

What is the use of educational theory? This is an interesting question and one which pops up from time to time when people involved in clinical education settings wonder why they spend any time reading or being encouraged to think about the collection of theories that contribute towards the variety of educational experience.

I am hoping to explore some of the dominant theories of adult learning over the next few months but the purpose of this blog is to offer support for the argument posited by social psychologist Kurt Lewin, who wrote:

“There is nothing as practical as good theory”

“Good for what?” you might ask.

There are a number of ways[1]of responding to this question, but I want to offer the following:

  • A theory might help explain a puzzling or complex issue and predict its future outcome.

Think of one of the defining features of the CPDme platform. It is an active and open invitation for you to explore experience through a systematic examination, and to identify possible alternative behaviours in order to improve the nature of the experience if similar circumstances arise again.

  • A theory provides a linguistic tool set with which to communicate the ideas generated in the above to:
a) self, facing a future, similar experience or;

b) to others who may be faced with similar challenges

The generalisations based on an analysis of experience (as per the experiential learning cycle – see below), provide the basis for future interaction within similar, possibly shared, fields of practice.

  • This can lead to change, an essential ingredient for learning.

Without a willingness to engage in experience and an analysis of that, change is always going to be a random event based on nothing but whatever urge needs to be satisfied at a particular time. Change based on a thoughtful analysis of past experience (own or others’) is more likely to achieve the intended outcome. This is, in fact, the basis of much curriculum design.

All of these above support the value of a systematic exploration of experience by one of adult learning’s first recognised theorists, John Dewey (1859-1952), and made more concrete by David Kolb, who produced the Experiential Learning Cycle as a possible process to enable the process of learning from experience.

What this theory offers is not only an explanation, but a challenge: how easy, or otherwise, do we find that journey? What are the obstacles and how can we overcome them? CPDme is part of the answer to that question and we will explore it in more detail over coming months. In the meantime, I would welcome your thoughts on Lewin’s view that that “There is nothing as practical as good theory.”


[1]This one has its origins at http://www.ucdoer.ie/index.php/Education_Theory [accessed 2nd December 2019]

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