Knowledge of Education

The Practical Need for Educology

Trial-and-Error Approaches to Improving Education Are Risky and Inefficient

Educators who have been around several decades have seen widely touted changes come and go.  In the past three decades, for example, some of the innovations have been referred to as:  site-based management, constructivist classrooms, technology integration, school restructuring, systemic change, and re-inventing schools. 

Despite such rhetoric, changes that have occurred in U.S. K-12 schools appear to be “tinkering around the edges.”  In 2015, for example, there may be more use of computer tablets and Wi-Fi networks in schools, more standardized achievement testing, more accountability for student learning achievement, less state funding for public schools, more tax dollars going to private charter schools, and increased regulation of schools by state and federal governments.

Furthermore, have any of these changes significantly improved K-12 education?  While apparently well-intentioned state legislators and state departments of education are mandating changes in K-12 education, there are no guarantees of improving matters. 

Worse, these changes may cause more harm than good.  The stakes are very high.  The consequences of mistakes can be devastating for our children and our future.

The following questions have not been adequately addressed:

We must know what to change in order to know how.  Without knowing what to change, the “how” is irrelevant (Frick, Thompson & Koh, 2006).   We must know whether the change is likely to accomplish the goal and that the change will not have negative, unintended effects. 

For example, attempts to hold teachers accountable for student achievement not under their control may drive the best teachers to leave the profession, due to frustration with such working conditions.  It may also discourage potentially good teachers from entering the profession.  Moreover, the best students might leave the public schools to attend private schools, if their parents can afford it.  This would leave public schools in possibly worse straits, with the least capable teachers and lowest achieving students remaining, and less money from public tax dollars to support them. Then what? 

Paradigm Change for Improving Education Requires Sound Knowledge

Some scholars argue that an entire paradigm change is needed in education.  For example, Reigeluth & Karnopp (2013) have promoted a vision and strategies to get there.  These include significant curriculum expansion, individualized learner-centered instruction, and attainment-based evaluation of learning—that contrasts with existing time- and age-based structures for moving student groups through lock-step grade levels. As another example, Duffy (2009) is promoting systemic change efforts.

But do we know how well such new paradigms will work?  This does not mean that a new education system that is learner-centered and attainment-based is not worthwhile.  Nor does it mean that changes to expand and revamp curriculum in school are not needed.  It just means that we lack sound knowledge to predict outcomes of new designs of education systems.

Why Sound Knowledge of Education Is Needed

As an analogy, consider an old bridge that is failing—it is structurally weak and is impeding the flow of traffic.  If the bridge is not fixed, it will collapse and vehicles will plunge into the river.  When engineers design a new bridge, they utilize adequate scientific theories.  No one in modern times would consider designing a new bridge by trial and error.  Nor would they let politicians try to do it.

Yet, in education we are essentially proceeding by trial and error in attempts to improve education—whether tinkering around the edges or by creating new paradigms.  We lack sound knowledge to make reasonable predictions whether or not the proposed remedies will fix the problems in education we face.

Disciplines Require Precise Language

In disciplines where knowledge has significantly advanced, there has been careful development of terminology so that researchers know what each other is actually talking about.  For example, in physics the concepts of ‘atoms’ and ‘molecules’ are clearly defined. Each ‘atom’ has a particular combination subatomic elements called ‘electrons’, ‘protons’, and zero or more ‘neutrons’.  For example, a molecule of ‘water’ is comprised of two ‘hydrogen’ atoms and one ‘oxygen’ atom.  A ‘hydrogen’ atom consists of one electron and one proton.  A stable ‘oxygen’ atom contains eight each of electrons, protons and neutrons (see “Properties of water,” n.d.).

As another example, it was not that long ago that the field of medicine was not a discipline.  There was no medical science, as there now is.  At one time, physicians would prescribe bloodletting to treat all kinds of disease, which turned out to be an ineffective practice and has been largely abandoned (“Bloodletting,” n.d.).  Many people were harmed by such ignorance. 

Medicine advanced, in part, because researchers in the field became more disciplined in their inquiry.  Terms are now precisely defined in medicine.  ‘Osteoarthritis’ does not mean whatever people want it to mean (i.e., construct their own meanings). Osteoarthritis is the medical term for a particular disease.  Researchers and practitioners in the field of medicine have agreed on what this term means.  So when treatments of this particular disease are investigated, competent medical professionals know what they are talking about.

The Need for Precise Language in Educology

On the other hand, in the field of education, such precise terminology has not been well-developed.  Steiner has long-argued that such terminology is sorely needed for the field to advance.  Steiner (1977, 1986, 1988) proposed the term, ‘educology’ to mean “knowledge of education.” 

Without such a vocabulary in educology, we will continue to be much like the fields of physics and medicine before they became more disciplined in their inquiry. 

Basic terms of ‘educology’ include ‘learning’, ‘knowing’, ‘signs’, ‘education system’, ‘teaching-studenting processes’, ‘teaching-studenting structures’ and many others.  See the basic glossary for this website at:

A standard vocabulary is necessary for advancing knowledge of education, similar to how knowledge of physics and medicine have advanced. Advances in educology will in turn help us to improve education, in particular worthwhile education for everyone