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Education Theory: Education Theory

Explore theories in education

Before choosing a theory to apply to a research question, familiarize yourself with a variety of theories to determine what fits your topic and perspective best. As you investigate...

Think broadly

While this guide focuses on learning theory, education researchers may use theories from a variety of fields:

  • Psychology: development, cognition, personality, motivation, etc.
  • Sociology: social change, race, class, gender, etc.
  • Business: leadership, management, etc.
  • Health: nursing education, etc. 

Learn more about learning theories.

For general social theory, see the main Theorists and Theories guide.

Think basic

For exploratory research like this, save the dense, theoretical works for later. Instead find basic overviews of theories with: 

Once you've identified useful theories, then find the original works. Books and websites will often list a theorist's influential books and articles—the original, primary sources.

These are the ones you should read and cite in your own work (not textbooks, encyclopedias, websites, or "secondary source" books—ones not written by the original theorists).

  • Textbooks and other readings from your courses
  • Encyclopedias (See below)
  • Websites  (See below)
  • Books (See below)

Locate books and articles by author:

Reference & dissertation resources

Reference materials are a great discovery tool for identifying theorists and theories. You can either search or browse our SAGE encyclopedia collection or our dissertation database:

Theoretical works

This list is based on the theories used in completed Walden EdD and Education PhD dissertations. You can use the list to help you locate copies of primary theoretical works.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This list is NOT comprehensive. You may need to look for other works by these theorists or explore other theorists in your field.

For help locating the full text of these articles and books, please see the following resources:

Theory Table Listed by Citation and Theory
Bakker, A., & Demerouti, E. (2008). Towards a model of work engagement. Career Development International, 13(1), 209-223. Work Engagement
Bandura, A. (1977). Self efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215. Self Efficacy
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Social Cognitive Theory
Bandura A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Social Cognitive Theory
Bean, J. (1983). The application of a model of turnover in work organizations to the student attrition process. The Review of Higher Education, 6, 129-148. Student Attrition
Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. Novice to Expert
Boyd, R. D., & Myers, J. G. (1988). Transformative education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 7(4), 261-284. Transformative Education
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Human Development
Cochran, M. (1992). Parent empowerment: Developing a conceptual framework. Family Science Review, 5(1), 3-21. Parent Empowerment
Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (1995). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement. New York, NY: New Press. Critical Race Theory
Davis, F. (1989). Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Quarterly, 13(3), 319-340. Technology Acceptance
Davis, F. D., Bagozzi, R. P., and Warshaw, P. R. (1989). User acceptance of computer technology: A comparison of two theoretical models. Management Science, 35, 982-1003. Technology Acceptance
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum Press. Self-determination / Motivation
Dewey, J. (1899). The school and society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Progressive/Experimental Education
Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Progressive/Experimental Education
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York, NY: MacMillan. Progressive/Experimental Education
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. Progressive/Experimental Education
Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitudes, intention and behavior. Reading, MA:Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. Reasoned Action / Expectancy-Value Theory
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Herder and Herder. Critical Pedagogy
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: BasicBooks. Multiple Intelligences
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York, NY: Basic Books. Multiple Intelligences
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. New York, NY: BasicBooks. Multiple Intelligences
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam Books. Emotional Intelligence
Hanvey, R. G. (1975). An attainable global perspective. New York, NY: Center for War/Peace Studies. Global Awareness
Herzberg, F. (1966). Work and the nature of man. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Company. Motivation
Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Delinquency
Hoover-Dempsey, K.V., & Sandler, H.M. (1995). Parental involvement in children's education: Why does it make a difference? Teachers College Record, 97, 310-331. Parental Involvement
Knowles, M. S. (1970). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. New York, NY: Association Press. Adult Education
Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (1973). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann. Adult Education
Kohlberg, L. (1981). The philosophy of moral development. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row. Moral Development
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Experiential Learning
Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. (1995). Toward a critical race theory in education. Teacher College Record, 97(1), 47-68. Critical Race Theory
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. Communities of Practice
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–96. Motivation
Maslow, A (1954). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row. Motivation
Meyer, L. B. (1956). Emotion and meaning in music. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Music Theory
Mezirow, J. (1981). A critical theory of adult learning and education. Adult Education, 32, 3–23. Adult Education / Transformational Learning
Parasuraman, A. (2000). Technology Readiness Index (TRI): A multiple-item scale to measure readiness to embrace new technologies. Journal of Service Research, 2(4), 307-320. Technology Readiness
Piaget, J. (1948). Judgment and reasoning in the child. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace. Child Development / Constructivism
Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International Universities Press. Child Development / Constructivism
Piaget, J. (1970). Science of education and the psychology of the child. New York, NY: Orion Press, Publishers. Child Development / Constructivism
Ray, M. A. (1989). The theory of bureaucratic caring for nursing practice in the organizational culture. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 13, 31–42. Bureaucratic Caring
Rogers, E. M. (1962). Diffusion of innovations. New York, NY: Free Press. Diffusion of Innovation
Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of a learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday. Learning Organization / Systems Thinking
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, 2(1). Connectivism
Stanton, T.K., Giles, D.E., & Cruz, N.I. (1995). Service-Learning: A Movement's Pioneers Reflect on Its Origins, Practice, and Future. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Service Learning
Sweller, J. (1988).Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science,12(2), 257–285. Cognitive Load
Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Student Retention
Tinto, V. (2010). From theory to action: Exploring the institutional conditions for student retention. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 25, 51-89. Student Retention
Venkatesh, V., Morris, M.G., Davis, F.D., and Davis, G.B. (2003). User acceptance of information technology: Toward a unified view. MIS Quarterly, 27(3), 425-478.
Technology Acceptance
Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Constructivism
Vygotsky, L. S., Cole, M., John-Steiner, V., Scribner, S., & Souberman, E. (1978). Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Constructivism
Watson, J. B. (1930). Behaviorism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Behaviorism

Websites: Theory Lists