In reference to the learning theories, models, perspectives listed in this website, here are some basic definitions (written in plain English!) that may be helpful to you:

What is a theory?
  • You may have heard people in everyday conversational English say something like, “Oh, that’s just a theory!”  The term “theory” used in everyday conversational English is very different than its use in science.  In everyday parlance, one may understand a “theory” to be something that is unproven or a guess, so it shouldn’t be taken that seriously.  In contrast, a scientific theory is an explanation or model based upon observation, experimentation, and/or reasoning.  Scientific theories have been tested and confirmed as a general principle that helps to explain and predict things (facts, observations or events).
  • These are generally accepted as “valid,” having survived repeated testing.
  • Note: A theory can never be established beyond all doubt.  The philosopher of science, Karl Popper’s concept of “falsification” may shed some light on this.  Over time, certain theories may become more infliene
What is a model?
  • A model is a theoretical construct or mental picture that helps one understand something that cannot easily be observed or experienced directly.
  • Another way of thinking about models is that they are testable ideas created by people that capture a story about what is happening in nature.   As scientists try to identify and generalize patterns in these observations, and use language to predict the outcome of related situations.  Data + observations + creativity = a model.
What is epistemology?
  • Epistemology is the study that explores the nature of knowledge (from the Greek word episteme, i.e. that which we know). It answers two kinds of questions: first, what does it mean to say a person knows (or fails to know) something?  Secondly, what is the extent of human knowledge? How much can a person know? How much do we know as people?
What is ontology?
  • Ontology is the study that describes the nature of the world and reality (from the Greek word ontos, i.e. that which exists). Day-to-day science is concerned with ontos.  Ontology is a branch of philosophy is that about understanding what entities exist and how these entities can be grouped and placed in a hierarchy based upon similarities and differences.  Ontology is interested in questions like:
    • What is fundamental?
    • What is real, and what is not?
    • What exists / what can be said to exist?
    • How can existing things be placed into specific categories?
What is axiology?
  • Axiology is the study of values. What is considered important to a person and why?  There are a lot of things that can affect how different people approach the same item: religious beliefs, aesthetics, morals, ethics, etc. 

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Please share or cite this article as: David L, "Definitions," in Learning Theories, August 4, 2014,