What is Theory?
Theory explains how some aspect of human behavior or
performance is organized. It thus enables us to make predictions about that
The components of theory are concepts (ideally well defined)
A concept is a symbolic representation of an actual
thing - tree, chair, table, computer, distance, etc.
Construct is the word for concepts with no physical referent
- democracy, learning, freedom, etc. Language enables conceptualization.
A principle expresses the relationship between two or more
concepts or constructs.
In the process of theory development, one derives principles based on one’s
examining/questioning how things/concepts are related.
Concepts and principles serve two important functions:
1) They help us to understand or explain what is going on around us.
2) They help us predict future events (Can be causal or correlational)
“That’s what theory is: the summary and synthesis of what is known about a
field. It is the reduction of our knowledge to the basic ideas, presented in a way that
shows their underlying patterns and relationships.” (Moore, 1991:2)
A theory is a related set of concepts and principles
- about a phenomenon
- the purpose of which is to explain or predict the phenomenon
Why theory is important
1. Theory provides concepts to name what we observe and to explain relationships
between concepts. Theory allows us to explain what we see and to figure out how
to bring about change. Theory is a tool that enables us to identify a problem
and to plan a means for altering the situation.
2. Theory is to justify reimbursement to get funding and support - need to
explain what is being done and demonstrate that it works - theory and research
3. Theory is to enhance the growth of the professional area to identify a body of
knowledge with theories from both within and with out the area of distance
learning. That body of knowledge grows with theory and research. Theory guides
“The theory also helps us understand what we don’t know and, therefore, is the
only guide to research. Relating to theory, it increases its ability to solve
other problems in different times and different places.” (Moore, 1991: 2)
Development of theories
Theory is constantly revised as new knowledge is discovered through research.
Three stages of theory development in any new “science”
1) Speculative - attempts to explain what is happening.
2) Descriptive - gathers descriptive data to describe what is
3) Constructive - revises old theories
and develops new ones based on continuing research.
Theory development process
take existing theory in education, apply to distance learning, develop new theory
see what is happening in distance learning, submit to research, develop theory from results
build on an initial theory to develop a second theory, then apply and test it
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Page updated: 96.03.31 - 21:48 (hto)