The Role of Theory in Researching a Problem…

The role of theory” and reflect on how will you will use theory to understand your problem? What theory is most appropriate for you and why?

LearningTheoriesThe role of learning theory in research is that it should guide the type of questions one asks. If a particular intervention has been developed in a principled manner, then the practitioner should have made implicit assumptions about the role of technology explicit, and then aligned the activity with the theory.

Given that my particular area of focus is not an intervention per se, but rather on the digital identity formed by first year students at a HEI, theory will guide me on what approach best supports a digital identity development that is conducive to learning at a HEI.

The paper we read was “Review of e-learning theories, frameworks, and models” by Mayes and de Freitas (2013).  This paper helped me explore the various theories, and how they should be best applied, depending on the learning outcome that needs to be achieved.  However, it did raise some questions as well, specifically when the paper explored situated learning, of which I am a proponent of.  There the authors explained that there were ‘two flavours’ of situated learning.  The first one I did not have a problem with, it focused on socio-constructivist learning theory.  However, the second ‘flavour’/focus/idea actually made me think about the problem I had grappled with the most during this year of study; the concept of a community of practice.    The precept of this focus is that it is although the activity may determine the community, it is the relationship of the individual with the group of learners, and not the relationship of the activity to the wider practice that is important.

However, this is where I have a problem.  Do all members of the community of practice engage with the learning required from the task?  I think this will resonate with any practitioner who has been involved with dispensing an activity that requires group work.  LearningTheoriesThe group would be a sub-community of the whole, but do all group members participate in the learning?  I am sure the refrain of “my group is not doing anything, so I have to it all if I want to get a good mark” will sound familiar with everyone.  This happens not only in an academic context, but also in the work place.  Therefore, I believe both digital and academic identities are important in determining the level of engagement with the learning, which the authors of this paper support.

If the group views one or two of the members to be ‘better’ than them, they will rely on those to do the work.  If they do not believe they are themselves capable, especially if there is a mark associated with the activity, then those students will want the ‘better’ students to do the work.  Personal characteristics will also come into play, as well as a person’s value system.  Therefore, I do not believe whole-heartedly that communities of practice is the answer to achieving learning outcomes.

I think, though, that the theory that really incorporates both cognitive and situated learning is that of the Activity Theory.  Activity Theory also supports critical theory as a research approach, which I believe is important.  So to investigate digital and academic identities in HEIs, I believe that AT and CT are best suited to my research…especially as I am still grappling with aligning group work being effective within a community of practice 🙂

Image sources:

  1. Tay, D. (2014) Learning Theories for Math.  [Online Image]  Available from: [Accessed 18 Sep, 2015]
  2. Prime Team. (2013) Group Work in 10 Reasons why Group Work should be made Legal Form of Torture. [Online image]  Available from: [Accessed 18 Sep, 2015]

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