In an earlier paper (Wilson, 1997), I expressed an ambivalent stance toward theory: On the one hand, I am instinctively drawn to intellectual debates and to theoretical discussions. Just like music and literature, a good theory is something to appreciate aesthetically. And the practical impact of powerful ideas can be enormous. On the other hand, I have grown increasing wary of how theory is commonly used and abused--when talking amongst ourselves, and when working on problems of practice. This paper continues that discussion. I want to talk about how we use theory in instructional design--as researchers and practitioners. I intend to take a somewhat cautious stance, arguing that care needs to be taken when considering theory-based approaches to practice. I begin with a narrative, tracing certain currents within the field of instructional design (ID). While the story below is somewhat familiar, it is not complete or objective. My intent is to convey how certain views have evolved over a period of years, then to provide a framework for continuing the theory/practice discussion.
Wilson, B. G. (1999). The dangers of theory-based design. Invited paper to ITForum. ITForum is the premiere listserv for instructional technology professionals. Periodically, they solicit research papers from leaders in the field as a basis for discussion. This paper was presented to the listserv January 1999, followed by a week of online discussion and critique. Online: http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~bwilson/dangers.htm