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