Topics: Education Theory

Education theory

Education theory is the theory of the purpose, application and interpretation of education and learning. Its history begins with classical Greek educationalists and sophists and includes, since the 18th century, pedagogy and andragogy. In the 20th century, "theory" has become an umbrella term for a variety of scholarly approaches to teaching, assessment and education law, most of which are informed by various strands of history, philosophy, sociology,and psychology.

According to Professor Gary Thomas of University of Birmingham, there are currently three main ways in which the term ‘theory’ is used in education:

* to mean the obverse of practice – here theory is thinking and reflecting (as opposed to doing); this encompasses ‘personal theory’ and ‘practical theorizing’; it is about the development of what Polanyi called 'tacit knowledge';

* to mean a generalizing or explanatory model of some kind; this can be loose, informal and tentative, in the way that Bourdieu talked about 'thinking tools', or more ambitious 'Grand Theory', as Wright Mills described it;

* to mean a developing body of explanation – here theory means broadening bodies of knowledge developing in particular fields, which may or may not have come to be associated with labels such as ‘learning theory’, ‘management theory’ or ‘Piagetian theory’.

Aims of Education

Aims that have been proposed for education include:

* Preparation for political participation.

* Preparation for economic participation.

* A product for use as social capital.

* Fulfillment of self-development.

* Development of character.

These aims are not mutually exclusive and are often combined. For example, the enterprise of civil society depends on educating people to become responsible, thoughtful and enterprising citizens. This is an intricate, challenging task requiring deep understanding of ethical principles, moral values, political theory, aesthetics, and economics, not to mention an understanding of who children are, in themselves and in society.

Emotional/Human education

As academic education is more and more the norm and standard, companies and individuals are looking less at normal education as to what is deemed a good solid educated person or worker. Most well-educated and successful entrepreneurs have high communication skills with humanistic and warm "emotional intelligence".

In certain places, especially in the United States, the term alternative may largely refer to forms of education catering to "at risk" students, as it is, for example, in this definition drafted by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

Content of Education

* Classical education movement: trivium, Quadrivium, etc

* Paideia Proposal

* Educational perennialism

* Educational progressivism

* International education

* Experiential education

* Culture-specific methods, such as African-Centered Education

Means of Education

* Educational progressivism: Learn by Doing

* Lecture

* Coyote teaching

* Socratic method

* Maturationism

* Outcome-based education

* Taking Children Seriously

* Transformative learning

* Autonomous learning: The student teaches himself or herself a curriculum set by others

* Constructivist approach to learning

Social concerns

* Critical pedagogy

* Inclusive classroom

Alternative Models of Education

When the above aims, methods, and concerns are placed into a cohesive whole, models of education can be proffered, some of which are the following.


The Montessori method is a child-centered, alternative educational method based on the child development theories originated by Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870–1952) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Primarily applied in preschool and primary (elementary) school settings (and occasionally in infant, toddler, middle school, and high school), its method of education is characterised by emphasising self-directed activity, on the part of the child, and clinical observation, on the part of the teacher (often called a director, directress, guide) — to stress the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her development level, and the role of physical activity in the child’s absorbing abstract concepts and learning practical skills. Auto-didactic (self-correcting) equipment is used for introducing and learning concepts, and reading is taught via phonics and whole language, the comparative benefits of which are presently being recognised.

The Montessori name is famous, but not a trademark, and it is associated with more than one organization. There are schools “influenced by Montessori” bearing little resemblance, and which have received substantive criticism from schools with a closer lineage to Montessori’s work. This article is about Dr. Maria Montessori’s work, that of her colleagues and successors.


Waldorf education is a pedagogy based upon the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements.The Waldorf approach emphasizes the role of the imagination, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. The overarching goals of this educational approach are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, moral and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny, the existence of which anthroposophy posits. Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures.

The first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 to serve the children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart. As of 2009 there were 994 independent Waldorf schools located in sixty countries throughout the world; as of 2001 there were 1400 kindergartens, 120 institutions for special education, and 68 social and teacher training institutions world-wide. There are also Waldorf-based public and Charter schools, homeschooling environments, and Waldorf ideas are being taken up, often less in whole than in part, by an expanding number of American public and private schools today.

The educational approach is known in some countries as Steiner or Steiner-Waldorf education.

Democratic Schools

The Sudbury model is an example of a Democratic school, alongside the Albany Free School and Summerhill School. Some critics of today's schools, of the concept of learning disabilities, of special education, and of response to intervention, take the position that every child has a different learning style and pace and that each child is unique, not only capable of learning but also capable of succeeding.

Sudbury model of democratic education schools assert that there are many ways to study and learn. They argue that learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you.  The experience of Sudbury model democratic schools shows that there are many ways to learn without the intervention of teaching, to say, without the intervention of a teacher being imperative. In the case of reading for instance in the Sudbury model democratic schools some children learn from being read to, memorizing the stories and then ultimately reading them. Others learn from cereal boxes, others from games instructions, others from street signs. Some teach themselves letter sounds, others syllables, others whole words. Sudbury model democratic schools adduce that in their schools no one child has ever been forced, pushed, urged, cajoled, or bribed into learning how to read or write, and they have had no dyslexia. None of their graduates are real or functional illiterates, and no one who meets their older students could ever guess the age at which they first learned to read or write. In a similar form students learn all the subjects, techniques and skills in these schools.

Describing current instructional methods as homogenization and lockstep standardization, alternative approaches are proposed, such as the Sudbury model of democratic education schools, an alternative approach in which children, by enjoying personal freedom thus encouraged to exercise personal responsibility for their actions, learn at their own pace and style rather than following a compulsory and chronologically-based curriculum. Proponents of unschooling have also claimed that children raised in this method learn at their own pace and style, and do not suffer from learning disabilities.


Homeschooling or homeschool (also called home education or home learning) is the education of children at home, typically by parents but sometimes by tutors, rather than in a formal setting of public or private school. Although prior to the introduction of compulsory school attendance laws, most childhood education occurred within the family or community, homeschooling in the modern sense is an alternative in developed countries to formal education.

Homeschooling is a legal option in many places for parents to provide their children with a learning environment as an alternative to publicly-provided schools. Parents cite numerous reasons as motivations to home school, including better academic test results, poor public school environment, improved character/morality development, and objections to what is taught locally in public school. It is also an alternative for families living in isolated rural locations or living temporarily abroad.

Homeschooling may also refer to instruction in the home under the supervision of correspondence schools or umbrella schools. In some places, an approved curriculum is legally required if children are to be home-schooled. A curriculum-free philosophy of homeschooling may be called unschooling, a term coined in 1977 by American educator John Holt in his magazine Growing Without Schooling.


Unschooling refers to a range of educational philosophies and practices centering around allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, and social interaction, rather than through the confines of a conventional school. Exploration of activities is often led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child.

The term "unschooling" was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the "father" of unschooling. While often considered to be a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically estranged from homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling. While homeschooling has been subject to widespread public debate, little media attention has been given to unschooling in particular. Popular critics of unschooling tend to view it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children will lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their peers, especially in the job market.

Within the homeschooling movement, unschooling has featured in debates on pedagogy and values, where it can be perceived as conflicting with Christian education.

Education theory