Social Theories of Learning: An advanced study programme

An innovative programme designed to provide a solid theoretical foundation for research on learning.

It is intended for both established and aspiring researchers.

Its aims are

  • to develop advanced knowledge and understanding of social theories of learning
  • to induct researchers into the scholarly practices of this community (study, collaborative inquiry, and critique)
  • to help them ground their own research projects in theory

Focus: breadth and depth

Each year the programme tutors select three or four strands of theory for (i) an introduction for all students, and (ii) an in-depth study for each student. This year we are focusing on: Communities of Practice, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Figured Worlds, and Discursive Practice. Our goal is to develop a sufficient understanding of the landscape of theories and a specialism in one theory in order to critically interpret, evaluate, and apply a social theory of learning in a research project.


Our approach is intentionally multi-disciplinary: recently education, business, development studies, translation studies, medicine, architecture, computer science, and performing arts students have been involved. Interactive engagement across disciplinary perspectives adds to the richness of the conversations. Many participants join the programme more than once to continue broadening their learning.


The programme invites participants into the kinds of conversations and debates that researchers have on theory. With only occasional formal presentations, the course mostly functions as a collaborative group of scholars who work together to make sense of theory and its application to their diverse project contexts.


The programme cohort formally meets as a whole in three ‘sessions’ (each of 2 or 3 half days) over the year (usually November, February, and April), with small group work in between. The course is divided into three phases:

  • Phase I: introduction to social theories of learning
    Leading up to the first formal session, everyone reads introductory texts to each of the theoretical strands. Each text is discussed in successive reading groups, where questions and insights are collected. These become the foundation for presentations and discussions of each strand during the first formal session.
  • Phase II: Deep dive into one theory
    Participants form self-selected groups around each theory. They read and discuss the foundational texts, as well as critiques and applications. At the second formal session, they present and discuss their understanding and insights with the whole group so that everyone benefits from their exploration of their chosen strand.
  • Phase III: Applying theory to your own research project
    Participants develop one or more theoretical perspective for their own personal research and share these in critical peer groups. Each participant presents their approach during the third ‘session’, where they receive constructive critiques and suggestions. On this basis, they produce a paper and receive detailed comments from two of the course tutors. Examples of such papers have included: the theory part of their research proposal, a chapter of their dissertation, a paper they will present at a conference or an article they intend to publish.

Registration and credit

The course is open to both students and academic staff. The programme is particularly suitable for researchers on doctoral or post-doctoral study programmes.