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Joy Egbert

Over many years in higher education working with graduate students to understand the nature of and uses for theory, it became clear to me that much of the extant literature on theories is inaccessible to my students in their role as novice researchers. This is particularly true for those student researchers from countries who have little to no previous exposure to theory. Reasons for this inaccessibility range from a lack of completeness in some theories to explanations of others that are buried in jargon and arcane verbiage, to yet others that are not based in sufficient empirical evidence. Because theory is useful not only for understanding different perspectives of the world but also for framing research in ways that allow it to be vetted thoroughly, I sought ways to make theory/ theories more accessible to my students. I found that when students could visualize, via models, the ways that theoretical concepts, constructs, and propositions fit together, they had a better idea of how to explore and use theory (several theories in this text support this idea). However, not all theories are explained in published models, and not all published models are clear and explicit. Therefore, rather than provide students only with models that have been visualized by others, I thought it useful to have students create models that represent their own theoretical understandings and those of their peers.

This book, then, which started as a course assignment, compiles my students’ theoretical understandings and their graphical representations of those understandings, based on the extant literature around each theory. In creating this text, student authors were asked to choose a Theory (empirically-based and normed by the research community) or theory (a conceptually-based proposal) that held their interest. (Whether the theory/concept name is capitalized in the chapter is based on both the literature and how the author sees its ideas.) The authors then used the literature about that theory to simplify it into its most basic parts (i.e., concepts, constructs, and proposition; Egbert & Sanden, 2019). Most important, they used these parts to develop a simplified model of their theory. To present their ideas, authors were asked to include in their chapters an introduction (often a short history), several research studies on or using the theory, their theoretical model with a description of it, and implications of the theory/model for teaching and research.

The ideas presented in each chapter were discussed and reviewed by the authors’ peers and editorially reviewed twice for clarity and accuracy. However, because each chapter is based on the vision and understanding of its author, it may not be the same conception or interpretation that readers have of the theory. Therefore, our goal is to provide a text that can be modified, adapted, and supplemented by readers; the open educational resource (OER) format and copyright-free license allow readers to change, add, and comment on the original content. Other students and researchers, or even the original authors, can, therefore, create new editions of this text that may present a different, broader, or more social understanding of these theories. We look forward to the evolution of these chapters and the book as a whole.

My co-editor and I, along with the chapter authors, expect that this book will be useful to varied readers. We see it being used as an overview to initiate deeper exploration of one or more of the theories or to ground the development of simple models of grand theories. Educators could employ the strategy that produced this book with their students to add more theories or start a new book. Overall, we hope the work presented here not only has enriched our own thinking but will enhance the work of others.


Egbert, J., & Sanden, S. (2019). Foundations of education research: Understanding theoretical components (2nd ed.). Routledge.


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Introduction by Joy Egbert and Mary Roe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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