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Towards a science of the art of teaching: Using variation theory as a guiding principle of pedagogical design

Lo Mun Ling (Centre for Learning Studies, and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Tai Po, Hong Kong)
Ference Marton (Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, The University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)

International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies

ISSN: 2046-8253

Article publication date: 4 November 2011

Issue publication date: 4 November 2011

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Abstract

Purpose

One important contribution of variation theory to learning study is that it brings the focus of the learning study sharply on the object of learning and provides a theoretical grounding to understand some of the necessary conditions of learning. The purpose of this paper is to argue that variation theory can serve as a guiding principle of pedagogical design.

Design/methodology/approach

Data from two case studies are used to support the argument.

Findings

This paper shows that variation theory is indeed a guiding principle; what the teacher is supposed to do in the classroom does not follow mechanically, as exemplified by two learning study cases. The first example shows that the principles of variation theory imply what features of the object of learning has to be invariant and what should vary in the students' experience. However, this is a necessary but not sufficient condition for learning. The second example shows also that even if one is aware of the pattern of variation and invariance needed, still it might take quite a bit of ingenuity to bring it about.

Originality/value

Teachers need a sound theory to help them make wise decisions about teaching. Variation theory provides a theoretical grounding to understand some of the necessary conditions of learning, so that wise pedagogical decisions can be made. This paper contributes to a deeper understanding of variation theory and its application in practice. Furthermore, the paper also shows that while a learning theory enhances the quality of a lesson study, a lesson study can also provide a platform for the testing and application of a learning theory.

Keywords

Citation

Lo, M.L. and Marton, F. (2012), "Towards a science of the art of teaching: Using variation theory as a guiding principle of pedagogical design", International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 7-22. https://doi.org/10.1108/20468251211179678

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited