Conceptual Frameworks: some thoughts

Gardner Campbell, Gardner Writes, Feb 28, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I often hear people in our field talk about a theory as a "lens" through which to view research. I think this is a misapplication of the concept. I think that what people really mean when they use the word 'theory' in this way is 'conceptual framework', as described by Gardner Campbell in this post. Conceptual frameworks are useful; I use them all the time. But I do not confuse them with representations of actual states of affairs in the world. A conceptual framework, for example, might divide people between 'men' and 'women' based on obvious superficial characteristics, but we know that the differences and similarities between people run much more deeply than that, and that as handy a lens such a distinction may be, it is a structure we impose on our enquiry and may or may not be reflective of salient reality. Now Campbell, in this post, is concerned about the lack of a conceptual framework on the part of many students, or worse, "these efforts are obscured or smothered by a rush to a set of standards, or learning outcomes." Quite so. Master the tool first, then master the material.

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