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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.

For a list of theories used in Ed PhD and EdD dissertations, see the Theoretical Works box below.


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 disserations. 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.

The links in the Availability in Walden Library column take you to the full text, when available, or provide links to more information about access. Many theoretical works are not available as ebooks that libraries can loan. 

Education Theory Citation & Availability Table

Citation

Theory / Notes

Availability 

Bakker, A., & Demerouti, E. (2008). Towards a model of work engagement. Career Development International, 13(1), 209-223. Work Engagement   Bakker 2008 in Walden Library
Bandura, A. (1977). Self efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215. Self Efficacy

Bandura 1977 in Walden Library

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura 1977 in other libraries

Bandura A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura 1986 in other libraries

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 Bean 1983 in Walden Library
Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. Novice to Expert

Benner 1984 in other libraries

Boyd, R. D., & Myers, J. G. (1988). Transformative education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 7(4), 261-284. Transformative Education Use Document Delivery Service
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Human Development 

Bronfenbrenner 1979 in Walden Library

Cochran, M. (1992). Parent empowerment: Developing a conceptual framework. Family Science Review, 5(1), 3-21. Parent Empowerment  

Use Document Delivery Service

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

Crenshaw 1995 in other libraries

Davis, F. (1989). Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Quarterly, 13(3), 319-340.

Technology Acceptance

Davis 1989 in Walden Library
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 Davis 1989 in Walden Library
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum Press. Self-determination / Motivation   Deci 1985 in other libraries
Dewey, J. (1899). The school and society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Progressive/Experimental Education Dewey 1899 free online
Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Progressive/Experimental Education Dewey 1902 free online
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York, NY: MacMillan. Progressive/Experimental Education Dewey 1916 free online
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. Progressive/Experimental Education

Dewey 1938 free online (as retyped PDF)

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitudes, intention and behavior. Reading, MA:Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. Reasoned Action / Expectancy-Value Theory Fishbein 1975 free online
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Herder and Herder. Critical Pedagogy

Freire 1970 in other libraries

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: BasicBooks. Multiple Intelligences Gardner 1983 in Walden Library (2001 edition)
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York, NY: Basic Books. Multiple Intelligences Gardner 1999 in Walden Library
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. New York, NY: BasicBooks. Multiple Intelligences Gardner 1993 in Walden Library (2006 edition)
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam Books. Emotional Intelligence

Goleman 1995 in other libraries

Hanvey, R. G. (1975). An attainable global perspective. New York, NY: Center for War/Peace Studies. Global Awareness

Hanvey 1975 from ERIC website (low quality)

Herzberg, F. (1966). Work and the nature of man. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Company.

Motivation

Herzberg 1966 in other libraries

Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Delinquency

Hirschi 1969 in other libraries

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  

Use Document Delivery Service

Knowles, M. S. (1970). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. New York, NY: Association Press. Adult Education

Knowles 1970 in other libraries

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 Knowles 1973 in Walden Library (2005 edition)
Kohlberg, L. (1981). The philosophy of moral development. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row. Moral Development Kohlberg 1981 in other libraries
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Experiential Learning    Kolb 1984 in other libraries
Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. (1995). Toward a critical race theory in education. Teacher College Record, 97(1), 47-68. Critical Race Theory Ladson-Bilings 1995 free online
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. Communities of Practice Lave 1991 in other libraries
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–96. Motivation Maslow 1943 in Walden Library
Maslow, A (1954). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row. Motivation

Maslow 1954 in other libraries

Meyer, L. B. (1956). Emotion and meaning in music. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Music Theory

Meyer 1956 in other libraries

Mezirow, J. (1981). A critical theory of adult learning and education. Adult Education, 32, 3–23. Adult Education / Transformational Learning Mezirow 1981 free online (in larger PDF)
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 Parasuraman 1981 in Walden Library
Piaget, J. (1948). Judgment and reasoning in the child. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace. Child Development / Constructivism Piaget 1948 in Walden Library (1999 edition)
Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International Universities Press. Child Development / Constructivism

Piaget 1952 in other libraries

Piaget, J. (1970). Science of education and the psychology of the child. New York, NY: Orion Press, Publishers.

Child Development / Constructivism

Piaget 1970 in other libraries

Ray, M. A. (1989). The theory of bureaucratic caring for nursing practice in the organizational culture. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 13, 31–42.

Bureaucratic Caring   

Use Document Delivery Service

Rogers, E. M. (1962). Diffusion of innovations. New York, NY: Free Press.

Diffusion of Innovation

Rogers 1962 in other libraries

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of a learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Learning Organization / Systems Thinking

Senge 1990 in other libraries

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, 2(1). Connectivism Siemens 2005 free online
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  

Stanton 1995 in other libraries

Sweller, J. (1988).Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science,12(2), 257–285. Cognitive Load Sweller 1988 free online
Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Student Retention

Tinto 1987 in other libraries

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 Use Document Delivery Service
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 Venkatesh 2003 in Walden Library
Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Constructivism

Vygotsky 1962 in other libraries

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

 

Vygotsky 1978 in other libraries

Watson, J. B. (1930). Behaviorism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Behaviorism

Watson 1939 in other libraries

Availability Notes:

The availability notes are not exhaustive. The intention is to connect users to copies quickly and at little cost. You may find copies elsewhere.

  • Items in Walden Library - this links to the full text in the Walden Library's databases.
     
  • Items in other libraries - this takes you to the item's record in WorldCat, which can show you libraries in your area that have copies. This option is included for any item that is located in 1000 or more libraries in the U.S. If you live in a large city or near a university, you may want to check WorldCat even if it's not listed as an option above. Learn more about WorldCat.
     
  • Use Document Delivery - this item is not available for free online or in the Walden Library. You can request a copy using Document Delivery Service.
     
  • Items free online - these are works that are accessible to anyone on the Internet. These items may or may not be covered by copyright restrictions, and their online availability is not guaranteed. Use Google Scholar, Google, or a similar search engine to locate them.
     
  • Copies for purchase - these are items that are not available in the library or online for free, and that are reasonably priced through book venders (generally less than $40). Purchasing a copy of your theoretical work is very common for doctoral students.

Websites: Theory Lists