Conference Papers

Learning Theory: A Philosophical Critique

When it comes to drawing up the latest policies and teaching methods to implement in schools, learning theory often plays a part, explicitly or implicitly. However, it is arguable that there have been no major developments in learning theory since the work of Jean Piaget, each each theory in itself remains seemingly deficient in some way. This contribution seeks to critique these theories to highlight the implications of these theories and how they affect teaching practice. Here the theory will be evaluated on their underlying philosophical assumptions of epistemology, ontology, and ethics, as well as their coherence as a theory in themselves. In addition I draw on Bhaskar’s critical realism within epistemology; adopting both holistic and reductionist notions of selfhood, and use the contrast of consequentialist and deontological ethics to cast rationalisation of virtue ethics. In doing so I confirm the incompleteness of the theories, whilst bringing forth paradigms for five aspects of learning theory: knowledge, associations, the environment, the learner, and the teacher.

These resulting components then provide a framework on which to build a revised account of learning theory, one oriented around pragmatism and semiotics, and more immediately presents an ideal around which to build education, challenging the current practices of schools and teachers alike. The ground has only been tilled however, and there is a great unknown beneath it to be challenged, which would be unearthed through the development of a new theory, and the continued refinement of its ideas.

Watson, R. (2015) 'Learning Theory: A Philosophical Critique', paper presented to The 11th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 25–26 June, viewed 13 May 2021, <>