What’s the Difference Between Theory and Instructional Theory?

I think we can all agree that the current state of education is highly unsatisfactory. Students are not being provided with the skills they need to thrive in today’s world, and as a result, many are disengaging with learning and education becomes a drag. The issue is exacerbated by the fact that many people believe that the solution to this problem is more technology. However, in order to effectively utilize technology in education, we need to have a strong understanding of how it works and how it can be improved.

Theory and instructions are often used interchangeably when referring to this subject, despite the fact that they mean entirely different things. Theory is the general knowledge and understanding of a topic, while instructions are the specific ways in which this knowledge is to be applied.

If we want to solve the educational puzzle, then clearly we need to understand the distinction between these two concepts. Doing this makes it much easier to accurately assess what is needed versus what has been provided, and it also allows for a greater degree of personalization and tailored learning.

Knowledge for Understanding

Theory is something that you are born with and will always have. Everyone is capable of learning it if they so choose, but very few actually do. It is the sum of all the knowledge that you have ever acquired in your entire life. When you learn something new, you immediately have a sense of how much you knew before that you did not know you knew. This is theory.

In contrast, instructional theory is something that you get through rigorous training and practice in order to be able to apply knowledge effectively. It is an explanation of how specific learning can be achieved through concrete actions, and it is also subjective because it is heavily dependent on the person using it. For example, if I train you in the proper way to bake a pie, the theory will enable you to bake a pie, but the instructions will tell you specifically what ingredients to use and how to measure and mix them together. The theory behind pie-making is that sugar is delicious and makes anything taste better, but you need to learn how to measure and mix the right proportions of the various flours and sweeteners before you can bake a respectable pie.

Learning to Learn

If you are reading this article, then you are already evidencing an important aspect of learning theory: the ability to learn. Everyone has the potential to learn, but because we live in a world that is constantly changing and evolving, very few actually do. The theory of learning enables us to understand this concept and use it to our advantage. The more you learn, the easier it will be to learn new things. This is not meant to be a self-serving advertisement, but rather an accurate reflection of how learning theory works.

How to Learn

Instructional theory is all about providing the proper learning environment for the individual student. Students can differ greatly in their approach to learning and how easily they absorb information. Some prefer to learn by doing while others prefer to learn by listening or watching. The theory behind the learning environment is that each student will learn more effectively in a certain way rather than in another. For example, it is widely agreed upon that hands-on learning is the most effective way for students to learn how to program a computer. This may be because computers are more accessible to everyone these days, but it also could be that the theory is correct and engaging in a hands-on fashion increases one’s ability to retain the information much more effectively than if they were to simply read about it in a textbook.

Hands-on experience is not the only factor, however. One should also consider the time of day that this experience is most effective. While mornings are typically best for some and evenings are for others, a self-evident truth emerges when one considers how one’s body clocks are wired: those who learn best in the mornings will generally perform best in the morning, and those who learn best at night will perform best at night. This is one more reason why getting a good night’s sleep is so important when learning.

Subjective vs Objective

One of the most important distinctions to make in relation to instructional theory is the difference between subjective and objective learning. Subjective learning is all about the individual learner and what they find effective and relevant to themselves. One of the most effective ways to learn a foreign language is by listening to audio recordings of native speakers discussing specific languages and words. This is effectively subjective, personal learning because the student is determining what is relevant to them and how they want to learn it. The downside to this type of learning is that it can be very time consuming. In the grand scheme of things, audio recordings of native speakers only provide limited value, but if you are driven by the theory of learning, then this type of individualized approach may just prove to be priceless.

In contrast, objective learning is all about the learning of specific skills and the ability to apply those skills in different situations. To give you an example, in chess, knowing how to play correctly is the theory, and being able to apply this theory in different ways is the objective. There is also the additional goal of improving the player’s skill, but this is not the direct focus of the theory in and of itself. In math, the theory is all about knowing the correct formulas and how to apply them, but the objective is for the player to become more efficient at calculation. Knowing the difference between subjectivity and objectivity in learning is important because it enables one to determine what is relevant to them and how they want to learn it. It also enables one to focus on and apply specific skills rather than on the general theory behind those skills.