The Need for a Theory of Education
My thesis in this book is the same as it was in my earlier book, A Theory of Education ( Novak, 1977a): Education, in any setting, is an enormously complex human endeavor; there are more ways to make changes that will be harmful or of little value than ways to make constructive improvements in education. A comprehensive theory of education is needed to give vision and guidance for new practices and research leading to steady improvement of education. The ideas in this book should apply to all educational settings, including schools, universities, corporations, technologymediated education, and nonformal education, such as museums or hobbies.
Theories are ideas that explain why some set of phenomena in the universe behaves as it does. The sciences have been enormously successful in devising theories, and although even the best theories evolve and change over time, these still make possible a steady advance in knowledge about how the natural world works and in prediction and control over an ever-widening range of events or phenomena. The theory of education presented in this book explains why educational experiences we judge as effective are effective, and why those experiences we judge as ineffective are ineffective. For example, the theory of learning I present explains why learning by rote is ineffective for long-term retention and application of knowledge and why meaningful learning is effective and necessary for creative thinking. As with all theories, there are no simple, direct answers (consider, for example, the theory of evolution), and yet I hope to explain, on a theoretical basis, what is in the ballpark of being better and what appears to be outside of this ballpark. The theory of education presented will be a composite of a theory of learning, a theory of knowledge, and a theory of teaching and management, each of which complements and supports the others.