1st Edition

Necessary Conditions of Learning

ISBN 9780415739146
Published July 10, 2014 by Routledge
324 Pages

USD $64.95

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Book Description

Necessary Conditions of Learning presents a research approach (phenomenography) and a theory (the variation theory of learning) introduced and developed by Ference Marton and taken up by his wide and varied following around the world—together with their practical applications in educational contexts. Reflecting Marton’s whole lifetime's work, the unique and significant contribution of this book is to offer an evidence-based answer to the questions "How do we make novel meanings our own?" and "How do we learn to see things in more powerful ways?"

The presentation makes use of hundreds of empirical studies carried out in Europe and Asia which build on the theory. The line of reasoning and the way in which the examples are put together is consistent with the theory—it is both presented and applied. The main argument is that in order to learn we have to discern, and to discern the intended ideas we must be presented with carefully structured variation, against a background of invariance. We then go through processes of contrast, generalization, and fusion in order to make sense. These insights form a practical framework for those who design teaching and teaching materials. Necessary Conditions of Learning is a major original work for which scholars of pedagogical theory have been waiting a long time.

Table of Contents


1. What makes humans human?

Cultural evolution

The species that teaches its offspring

The origin of pedagogy

Learning from others

Learning as a by-product and learning as an aim

"De-pedagogizing" learning

Pedagogies of learning

Teachers’ professional knowledge

What this book is about

2. What is to be learned?

What matters?

Organizing learning

What is to be learned?

Learning as differentiation

Different meanings of what is to be learned

3. Sameness and difference in learning

The problem with direct reference

Discerning features that have been discerned previously

Discerning features that have not been discerned previously

We do have to learn to discern features whether or not they are innate

Learning to discern novel features and aspects

Dimensions of variation, and values*

Neither from the specific to the general, nor the other way around

Patterns of variation and invariance

The path of learning

Critical aspects and critical features again

Why is the experience of difference, against a background of the experience
of sameness, necessary for learning to discern novel features and novel



Differences and experienced differences

Discernment, difference, simultaneity

Discerning and learning to discern

Using the known to prepare for the unknown

The transfer of learning

4. What does the world look like to others?

The revelation of Jonas Emanuelsson

What is to be learned, again: Ways of seeing

Finding critical aspects

The learner’s perspective and the observer’s perspective

Logic and understanding

Asking questions

Analyzing answers

The idea of phenomenography

Qualitative differences in learning, specific to specific objects of learning

5. The art of learning

Learners generating patterns of variation and invariance

Discoveries as discernments

Innovations and the opening up of new dimensions of variation

Finding novel meanings

6. Making learning possible

Three faces of the object of learning

Necessary conditions of necessary conditions of learning

The origin of differences

Analysing lessons

Comparing teaching

Relating learning and teaching to each other

Bringing about learning: Patterns of variation and invariance as tools for
planning and conducting teaching

Bringing learning about: Implementing patterns of variation and

Bringing about learning: The order of things

Hierarchical and sequential structure in reading and writing

Can the "art of learning" be learned?

There are no teaching experiments

Putting conjectures to the test

The Chinese connection

7. Learning to help others to learn

What teachers have to be good at

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Ference Marton is Professor of Education at the Göteborg University, Sweden and Honorary Professor at the Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong. He is internationally known for introducing the distinction between deep and surface approaches to learning, for developing phenomenography as a methodology for educational research, and more recently for developing the variation theory of learning. Both the methodology and theory were developed by Marton together with research groups in Sweden, the UK, Australia, and China.


"Marton has provided an outstanding exposition of his lifetime’s thought. Through describing research and teaching in a variety of subjects he exemplifies the theory of learning through discernment of variation. This stimulating and scholarly book acts both as a handbook for design of teaching and teaching materials, and as a basis for understanding more about learning in educational contexts."

Anne Watson, University of Oxford, UK