Teaching and Learning Theories

October 17, 2008 at 9:30 pm (Uncategorized)

As of right now, I know that teaching and learning theories do not always go hand in hand.  They sound nice and create a masterpiece on paper; however, in the classroom is a totally different story.  It’s hard to categorize teaching into different theories.  Everyone has an opinion and their own theory for teaching.  Does that mean some theories are correct and some incorrect?  In my opinion, it seems there are so many different ways to look at teaching, that one must find the best possible solution to scaffolding their own students.  We know that they all sound great but have not been proven to be exact.  In a nutshell, theories are only theory (opinion), not evidence or facts. 


  1. Nate said,

    “[T]heories are only theory (opinion), not evidence or facts.”

    Actually, this is a false statement when dealing with theory in the scientific sense. It is *not* an opinion.

    Gravity is a theory. If you drop an egg, it will fall to the floor or ground? Most likely it will break. My opinion is that breaking eggs this way is a waste of eggs.

    Be careful with this line of thinking.

  2. dianaljackson said,

    Thank you for the clarification. In my statement I was thinking of theory as an abstract thought (not concrete). Gravity is a proven theory (ex. the egg)? I can create a theory and test my theory but does that make my theory correct or concrete? When I think of Gravity, I think concrete (of course when you drop an egg it will break). I will be careful in the future with my line of thinking. I still am a bit confused on the topic. I’m trying to steer away from my original thinking and explore different options. In the scientific realm, theory is tested and proven, but other places, isn’t it theory (thought)? I could be thinking way too hard!!!!

  3. Nate said,

    Theory is always subject to testing. Some theories have been tested a lot. Some not so much. The theory of gravity is a good one because it’s so readily demonstrable but it’s no more concrete than any other legitimate theory.

    The problem is that a lot of mental exercises out there are calling themselves theories which have no credible evidence to back them up. There are characteristics of theories that limit the kinds of speculative exercises that I think you’re referring to. One key is that they have to be based on an hypothesis that’s testable.

    I can propose the “theory” that the universe was created and seeded with life by the Flying Spagetti Monster. That’s got some interesting hypotheses built into it, but I cannot test it. There is no way to find evidence of the FSM because the FSM is outside of our experiential plane. As a predictive theory, it’s got limited utility. As a scientific theory, it’s lacking the key element of “testability.” I’m free to believe it, but it’s an act of faith and not science. Theories cannot be based on faith — by definition. Faith cannot be tested using valid and reliable instrumention.

    Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been fairly well established using some reasonable hypothesis testing, validated instrumentation, and appropriately applied analysis of the data.

    In comparison, the theory of learning styles has not. The basis of learning styles theory is that an individual has a consistently preferred style of learning that, when accommodated, results in a measurable improvement in learning outcomes. This basic hypothesis has not been established by any credible research.

    Instrumentation sets which have been used to validate the theory are based on the hypothesis that the instruments can determine which style an individual prefers in a context free environment. These instruments appear to be reliable, that is, they seem to indicate a consistent outcome for an individual across a variety of applications of the instrumentation, but so far, nobody has shown that this measurement indicates a learning style which, if satisfied, results in improved learning outcomes.

    Frankly, I wonder if these instruments are really only an indirect measure of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. They do appear (generally) to be reliable. The problem is that the theory claims that delivering instruction in that preferred style always results in improved outcomes regardless of content domain, context, or application. This key element has not ever been proven, and I can’t imagine it ever will be. That may be a failure of my imagination, but between differences in encoding, differences in delivery, and differences in student context, I can’t think of a way to screen out confounding factors.

  4. Diana Jackson said,

    I see…makes sense now. So in terms of theory, there’s a lot that hasn’t yet been proven because it would be impossible to prove everything (such as delivery instruction in a specific learning style always resulting in success). When looking at it from that perspective I can see how it was a false statement. I should reframe from thinking inside the box…and more the overall picture (result of theory). It does seem that they’re an indirect measure because it would be nearly impossible to claim that the outcome is positive every time. As for me and teaching, determining the learning style of a student has always helped me with guided instruction. I can’t truly say it has been successful every time, but it seems to be a good place to start. However, to make the assumption that it works every time would be wrong on my part. Interesting…thanks for the discussion and light at the end of the tunnel!

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