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Theories of Professional Learning


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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction - an overview of recent development of theories of professional learning
  1. Experiential Learning - Kolb
  1. The Reflective Practitioner - Argyris and Schon
  1. Pedagogical Content Knowledge - Shulman
  1. Professional Knowledge and Competence - Eraut
  1. Communities of Practice - Lave and Wenger
  1. Cultural Historical Activity Theory - Engestrom
  1. Conclusion

About the Author

Carey Philpott was Professor of Teacher Education at Leeds Beckett University. Before this he worked at Oxford Brookes University, the University of Cumbria and the University of Strathclyde. Before working in Teacher Education, Carey was an English and Drama Teacher in secondary schools in Glasgow and London and a mentor for student teachers on PGCE courses. His research interests included teachers' collaborative professional development, teachers as researchers, evidence-based teaching and the relationship between teachers' learning and learning in the health professions.

Ian Menter (AcSS) is Professor of Teacher Education and Director of Professional Programmes in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. He previously worked at the Universities of Glasgow, the West of Scotland, London Metropolitan, the West of England and Gloucestershire. Before that he was a primary school teacher in Bristol, England. His most recent publications include A Literature Review on Teacher Education for the 21st Century (Scottish Government) and A Guide to Practitioner Research in Education (Sage). His work has also been published in many academic journals.


Educating beginner teachers is hard! This is not a statement that will come as a shock to any teacher educator but Carey Philpott's book on theories of professional learning helps us to understand just why it is so difficult.

This review of some of the seminal literature on practices and thinking in teacher education gives a whirlwind tour of key theories - exploring their applications and limitations with a fair and balanced approach. Given so many competing theories, each with their own criticisms, it is no wonder that the world of teacher education feels like a murky, dark-art at times.

Many of Philpott's conclusions are to be welcomed ... that teacher educators and mentors in schools should receive more time, training and recognition; that trainee teachers ought not to be `dumped in the deep end' too soon and that immersion in day-to-day practice is key to success, among others. Interestingly, his final chapter on craft and apprenticeship models of teaching may become a pivotal one as we enter this first year of the newly developed postgraduate teaching apprenticeship.

As a literature review, the book does not seek to explore what each of the theories might look like in practice and as such, this may not be the book for you if you are designing (or rethinking) your ITE curriculum and are in search of practical advice on approaches and pedagogies to take. If, however, you are seeking to undertake your own research into best practice in teacher education, you wouldn't go far wrong by perusing this book as an introduction to key theories.

-- Emma Hollis, NASBTT

This is not only a great read for teacher trainers, but there are many aspects of the book which are extremely relevant for teacher trainees to explore too. A wide range of theories are explored critically and clear links are made to the theory and practice relationship. The book provides a compact but detailed collection of a wide range of theories in a helpful and succinct way. It is truly a great book to have in your own personal library to refer back to, and it outlines the core principles of each theory clearly and accessibly. The text is extremely helpful and can be used to encourage trainees to develop their understanding of key theories and chapters can be useful starting points for discussions on theorists, the impact of their work in relation to the classroom and how these theories can be considered.

-- Lizana Oberholzer, NASBTT

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