Critics often characterise the study of educational technology as under-theorised. To test this assertion and to determine the extent of this criticism, the present paper reports an in-depth analysis of the 503 most recent empirical articles published in three selected education-technology-related journals […] The present paper examines how explicitly existing theory was identified in previous research, how theories were applied and how often these theories were advanced in education technology research. In the majority of cases, explicit engagement with theory was absent. Many studies either were wholly bereft of theories or made vague use of theory. Where theory was explicit, the articles were more likely to use theory to conceptualise the research, to inform the data collection or analysis process and to discuss the results. Very few articles reported findings that help us to learn something new about a particular theory (ie, little evidence of theory advancement).


For the purpose of this paper, we follow Malone’s (1985) conceptualisation of theory as either explanatory (“Y because of X”) or design (“to achieve Y, do X”).

Khe Foon Hew, Min Lan, Ying Tang, Chengyuan Jia and Chung Kwan Lo

Khe Foon Hew et. al. Where is the “theory” within the field of educational technology research? March 2019 British Journal of Educational Technology 50(3):956-971 DOI: 10.1111/bjet.12770