It’s great to be working with you again. I appreciated your post very much as you gave me a lot to think about—as usual.
I couldn’t agree with you more when you mentioned the difficulty of defining and theorising what it means to learn something. And I found that your summary of each of the studies overlapped with my own thinking significantly.
There were a couple of points in your post that I’d like to comment upon. The first is when you wrote “explanations to what happens”. At first, I wondered if you meant “explanations for what happens” as this is more standard English. Upon reflection, though, I realised your subtle distinction: The to version is forward looking and positions the theory as a predictor; whereas the for version aims to explain after the event, i.e. an explanator. Theories need to fulfil these functions and a few more (see Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2011, for a discussion on what a theory should do).
Your excellent summary of a theory comprising of two aspects, vocabulary and variables, got me thinking. I wondered if a theory could be sufficiently described by just two aspects, so following Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011) I listed the following components of a theory: an ontological position, an epistemological position, a model of human nature and methodological approaches (p. 6~8). The notion of a ‘shared vocabulary’ amongst researchers who broadly follow an ideological paradigm feels right; without shared beliefs, writers would need to explain all aspects of their research from first principles each time they write a paper. With a shared vocabulary, only those terms that are to be used differently need explication. Under ‘vocabulary’ comes the ontological positioning, epistemology, a model of the nature of human being and methodological approached. There are dangers, though, if researchers assume that readers shared their potentially idiosyncratic use of core vocabulary. I wonder if ‘variable’ can also be subsumed under ‘vocabulary’, or do you mean the variables that aim to describe theoretical constructs for empirical research? If the former, perhaps the law of parsimony would mean that the notion of ‘theory’ can be reduced to ‘shared vocabulary’. If the latter, I need help in seeing how these differ significantly from how any shared vocabulary would identify variables.
When you wrote that learning theory’s ultimate purpose is to promote better learning in humans, I half-agree. There is the notion that studying learning has a purpose, but also researchers may study it to find out more about the human condition without any practical purpose in mind, to create taxonomies of humanity. This distinction may be a good one to uphold in a PhD course, but we EdDers are of a practical bent.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education (7th ed., Vol. 55). Abingdon: Routledge.