Why We Need Learning Theories

In any discussion of theory I always ask myself, “Why do we need this?”  My answer this time is different than it has in the past.  I do believe we need learning theories for the following reasons:

  1. We need to understand what our own personal “theory” is, in order to understand our own limitations.
  2. Good theories provide stones for the novice to build their own foundation.
  3. We need to understand others.

Understanding Our Own Personal Theory

Every person is influenced by his or her beliefs.  (Even as I answer this question, I am aware of my own belief system that colors my answers.) As a teacher, knowing where we come from, what our basic foundation of belief is, helps us to understand how we act and react.  Looking at two different belief statements you can imagine what each of these classrooms would feel like.

“I choose to believe that my students want to do their best in school and in life. They want to perform in a postive way. If they don´t even try, it is because they don’t think they can. This is hard to prove so I choose to believe. And this is important for me to experience a sense of coherence.” ~Linn Gustavsson

“”….Our attempts to reshape others may produce change, but the change is distortion rather than transformation…”  ~David Keirsey

I do believe that once we understand our own actions and reactions (that last one is so much more difficult), we can then seek to adapt or change.  From a systems perspective, in order for a system to endure for any length of time, it must be able to change and adapt.  This would be that Feedback and the Growth function in action. (See Ecology and Systems – Exploring Personal Learning Ecology)

Building Stones

Good Theories are Stones for the Novice

Every good teacher seems to know how to teach.  There is a natural flow to the experience.  So how do you “teach” something so intangible?  I think of the various theorists ideas as stones. (See all your options from one building supply business!)

I believe that each of us must build our own foundations.  There are plans and diagrams; outlines and instructions; but ultimately we must choose each “stone” and place it into our own plan for our own foundation.  There may even come a time when the aspiring expert seeks out various stones from all over, cutting, grinding and polishing each piece to fit into the foundation. (Being a rockhound, this analogy is working itself out nicely.)

We Need to Understand Others

Just as a teacher needs to understand his/her foundation of beliefs, so too does a good teacher seek to understand the foundation of beliefs of each student.  Knowing the influences on a student’s actions and reactions will help the teacher understand how to change and adapt their own actions to maximize learning.

Some of the Stones in My Foundation of Beliefs

My educational background was throughly infused with constructivist ideas.  In many ways I would consider myself a constructivist (this whole foundation – building analogy aside).  The Constructivist vs. Connectivist conversations (my own included) have troubled me.  Then I ran across this quote from Seymour Papert in – Part 1: Teaching vs. Learning, from the 1980’s

Constructionism means “Giving children good things to do so that they can learn by doing much better than they could before.”

If constructionism, at its heart is giving students “things to do so…they can learn by doing”, what if the “thing to do” is connecting?  I honestly always imagined my version of constructing as connecting – how else would you construct if not by connecting “things” together to create something new?  There is also in this vs. discussion the idea that one constructing in solitude cannot “create knowledge” and that the network of connections is what “creates” the new knowledge.  I never did see the student in a constructivist arena as solitary.  I do believe that there does need to be time for reflection and solitude.  But I also believe in the strength of the community, those connections that allow meaning and understanding to grow and develop.

Some of the “stones” in my foundation are…

Foundation Stones

stone wall image from http://hammerheadstoneworks.com/

and two new ones in the growth and understanding stage (they still need some cutting, grinding and polishing before they can be placed solidly in my foundation).

  • autotelic
  • salutogenesis


If you liked this post you may like others listed in the Theory Category.


6 Responses to Why We Need Learning Theories

  1. Pingback: Using Multiple Instructional Models – SAMR and TPCK | For the Love of Teaching

  2. Ruby says:

    It is important that we all build learning theories for ourselves and for our students, as I have just learned. these act as guides, help us to understand ourselves better through the identification of our own pitfalls and that of our students. It’s almost like the adoption of a personal teaching philosophy. It guides you as well as what your students gain from you.

  3. madhur says:

    Yes definatelythere are many factors which affect learning..influences of herditary and environment is one of them.

  4. Adiba Anis says:

    As an academician, we need these theories to strategize how we can help our students proceed in the field of learning, as a learner ourselves, we need these theories to understand how we are learning – the process we are following or need to take up.

  5. K says:

    In my opinion, theory is a frame to lay-out your own personal belief or picture of the world.

    As the world changes, so may our beliefs and our understanding of why we think the way we do.

    Do we learn theories to understand people and our world, perhaps, other worlds?

    In my humble opinion, it seems that we do.


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