Designing theory

Melissa Warr, Punya Mishra, Ben Scragg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Theoretical work is essential to the progress of any discipline. Theories, models, and frameworks are underdetermined representations of a phenomenon that help us understand and take action in a domain. However, the field of learning design and technology (LDT) has traditionally struggled with developing a solid theoretical foundation that is useful for both research and practice. We propose viewing theory building as an act of design might address these challenges. After defining key constructs and describing two approaches to theory development, we describe three design perspectives that might be useful for theory development: Lawson and Dorst’s (Design expertise, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2009) view of design as a combination of analytical (problem-based) and creative (solution-based) moves, Schön’s (The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action, Basic Books, New York, 1983) reflection-in-action, and design as dialogic interpretation (Snodgrass and Coyne in Des Issues 9(1):56–74,, 1992). We use a case study to illustrate each perspective. We conclude with implications of a design approach to theory creation, including how design perspectives enable scholars to design possible futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-632
Number of pages32
JournalEducational Technology Research and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Community of practice
  • Design
  • Design thinking
  • Theory development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Designing theory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this