Theory in use; how to be a better learning designer

You have beliefs about what creates good learning, and what doesn’t. This is called your ‘theory in use’. It is your personal construct, and is almost certainly not exactly the same as that of the very best expert teachers – yet! Your ‘theory in use’ decides pretty much everything you do in the classroom, so it is worth improving!

Geoff Petty

During my teacher training, my tutors used Geoff Petting’s ‘Teaching Today‘ as a core text. It is a great book full of practical advice on how to be a great teacher. His other popular book, ‘Evidence-based teaching‘, based mainly on John Hattie’s meta-analysis on the effect sizes of different teaching methods, is even better. 

The book suggests that the way you teach or design learning is based on two things:

  1. Theory in use – your principles of learning and teaching
  2. Teaching strategies – processes and practices for delivering teaching

Petty argues that the closer your theory in use reflects reality, the better you are as a teacher. He says that both your theory in use and your teaching strategies can be improved by constant research, experimentation, and reflection. 

How well do you understand your theory in use and teaching strategies? Are they written down? How often do you add and adapt them based on student outcomes and feedback?

What is your theory in use?

Have a go at writing your theory in use down on a blank piece of paper with the Feynman technique to test yourself. Set a timer for around 20 minutes and start to write your underlying principles of learning and teaching as if you were explaining them to someone. Once you have everything out of your head, use books and the internet to fill in any gaps. 

Try to evaluate how well you have tested your principles and how closely you feel they reflect reality. Spend the next few days reading up on the principles of expert teachers you respect, is there anything you can add to your list?

If you are serious about being the best learning designer you can be and provide students with a great learning experience, you need to improve your theory of use and teaching strategies. First, make sure you know what both of these are, then spend some time adding to it from great teachers who share their knowledge and finally use a learning cycle to add to and adjust them as you gain experience. The world needs better teachers, and reflective practice is the first step to creating more of them.