Where is the “theory” within the field of educational technology research?

Khe Foon HEW, Min LAN, Ying TANG, Chengyuan JIA, Chung Kwan LO

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

113 Citations (Scopus)


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 (Computers & Education; Learning, Media and Technology; and British Journal of Educational Technology). These journals were selected because they publish studies related to all education settings rather than focusing on only a certain segment such as higher education; they have broad geographical catchment; and they were the most highly ranked journals in terms of their 2017 journal citation impact factor. 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). Copyright © 2019 British Educational Research Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)956-971
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number3
Early online date14 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


Hew, K. F., Lan, M., Tang, Y., Jia, C., & Lo, C. K. (2019). Where is the “theory” within the field of educational technology research? British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(3), 956-971. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12770


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