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Alternative learning theories


Selected readings are supplied namely an article by Northedge (2003) and a chapter by Mezirow (2009).

Enabling participation
Northedge (2003) explores critically the student-centred versus teacher-led debate. He argues that students require the teacher (or facilitator) to engage in three areas: participation in meaning, well-planned design and participation in academic discourse. He draws particularly from the experience of working with older students. This provides an interesting contrast with Rogers (1994).

Transformative learning
Mezirow (2009) provides a summary of the main features of transformative learning theory. His key concepts include: frames of reference; meaning perspectives; critical reflection and participation. He responds to criticisms that have been made of his approach and describes ways in which transformative learning can be linked with other perspectives including constructivist developmental psychology and Jungian psychology.


The literature on learning is vast and informed by many disciplines. The following subheadings indicate some potential areas for further exploration in the further reading.

Action learning
Pay (2004) provides a brief overview of the action learning approach. This is loosely based on the experiential learning cycle and involves participants working in small groups called 'action learning sets'.

Career learning
Law (1996 & 1999) argues that career learning takes place through a learning process of: sensing; sifting; focusing and understanding. Links can also be made with the work of Willis (1977), Kolb (1984), Hodkinson (2008) and Mitchell & Krumboltz (1996).

Cultural studies
Lindqvist (1982) argues that the experience of work is often distorted and that individuals can be helped to expose this by ‘digging where you stand’. He is reported to have inspired much 'barefoot' research by individuals into their work contexts. This approach can be linked to critical pedagogical theory.

General overviews
Illeris (2009) provides a neat overview of some contemporary approaches to learning with contributions by many of the most well-known figures. Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (2003) also provide a general overview of learning theories.

Group dynamics
Johnson and Johnson (2009) consider a range of subjects including group structures, productive groups and the development of groups over time. They highlight Kurt Lewin's ideas on group dynamics and linkages between theory and practice.

Barnett (2007) and Jarvis (2006) ground their contrasting approaches to learning in ideas derived from philosophy.

Problem-based learning (sometimes also called Enquiry-based learning)
This is another branch of experiential learning. It has been used in translating highly abstract or remote concepts and understanding into practical problems. King (2001) provides a brief example drawn from teaching geography and earth sciences.

Situated learning
In a much-cited but often misunderstood text, Lave & Wenger (1991) argue that learning occurs through progressive participation in social contexts. Again, strong links are argued between career, learning and identity. An interesting contrast to Law (1996 & 1999).

Theory in practice
Argyris and Schon (1974) and Schon (1995) have explored the relationship between theory and practice particularly in workforce development and professional education. Their key concepts of 'theory-in-use' and 'espoused theory' can be helpful in dissolving commonly held distinctions between theory and practice in learning. See also Collin (1998) for a discussion over the relationship between theory and practice in careers work.