3.2.1 Why Theory Might be Useful

The main similarity between using academic theory and getting feedback is that both can offer a perspective that may be different from your own. We have already seen how additional perspectives can be valuable in rounding out the understanding you have about yourself. One possible big advantage with academic theory is that this additional perspective can come from someone who is recognized as an expert or authority.

Drawing on theory opens the possibility of building on ideas that have been worked on for many years. The work of Peter Jarvis, which was touched on in Unit 2, is an example of this. Often, academic writers such as Jarvis try to develop frameworks. These frameworks can sometimes help us to organize or structure information or ideas so that we are able to make more sense of them.

As you might guess, there are many, many theories in existence. You might have heard, for example, of Darwin’s theory of evolution or Einstein’s theory of relativity. In Learning to Learn, we are focusing on theories about learning. There are a number of these, too. We do not have the time to go into all of them and, in any case, the purpose of introducing theory into the unit is to give you the opportunity to use it to help you better understand your learning and to put you in a stronger position to make decisions related to your personal development.

We have selected just four sets of theories that we feel will be particularly useful for students of Learning to Learn:

  • Learning theories developed by psychology.
  • Theories of formal and informal learning.
  • “Communities of practice” theory, which focuses on the social aspects of learning.
  • Theories focusing on student approaches and strategies, exploring how individual students approach learning.

As you work through the unit you may find that some of the theories you encounter are not relevant to you. Academic theory about learning is unlikely to have considered your own experiences or the story of your life. This may mean that some parts of theory may not seem to apply to you. However, it is important to keep an open mind as you study these theories because connections with your own learning experiences may not immediately be obvious, but instead may emerge over time.

You might also feel that you get along in life perfectly well without having to think about theory. You might even think that having to do this might get in the way of living your life. If this is true for you, then we are going to have to convince you that theory can have practical and even personal uses. We’ll make a start now!

3.2 Your Learning—What Does “Theory” Offer?

3.2.2 An Overview of Learning Theories