Stage 1: Adult Learning and Leadership

Change theory: Do we need a new paradigm?

This week we’re deviating from our usual structure to focus on change. And in doing so, we thought it would be useful to consider some change theory from one of the most influential thinkers of the past century: Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn was not an educator, but rather a scientist and historian. However, his theory of “revolutionary science” and paradigm shifts has plenty of implications for our work in schools.

Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions explores the process by which new paradigms come to replace old ones in science. For instance, the paradigm of geocentrism, the view that the earth is the center of the universe, was replaced by heliocentrism, which assumes that the earth and other planets in our solar system revolve around the sun.

The shift from one paradigm to another occurs when enough anomalies to the current paradigm build up, causing scientists to question the foundational principles upon which their worldview rests. During “normal science,” when the current paradigm is in place, these anomalies are discounted as acceptable levels of error. However, during “revolutionary science” or a paradigm shift, these anomalies become the center of attention as scientists attempt to construct a new world view that incorporates and explains them. This period of intense focus on explaining anomalies and developing a new paradigm is considered a “crisis.” Once a new paradigm is developed, however, there is a return to “normal science” under the new worldview.


Do we need a paradigm shift in education? In our individual schools or classrooms? What anomalies challenge the principles upon which we have built our practice? How could we focus our attention on these outliers to gain insight into the flaws of our educational worldview? What paradigm should come next?

1 thought on “Change theory: Do we need a new paradigm?”

  1. Yes, I do think we need a paradigm shift and our organisation is one of those that promotes this concept and not just with the affluent but with those who are not. The paradigm shift we’re interested in is to underpin the vision of education with one fundamental concept – that education is primarily to enable young people to become the best learners they can be within the context of local and global citizenship. Other reasons for school such as teaching certain curricula, passing exams, developing a workforce, etc are secondary to the development of what we call ‘real learners’.

    A real learner is an individual who has developed (or is in the active process of developing) the attributes of great learners such as: being caring about one’s learning and learning environment (think big here – inside and out); being proactive about learning; developing thinking strategies and approaches; being effective at communicating appropriately (includes listening); being able to learn and act on one’s learning independently and collaboratively (making the best of each situation); being reflective; being balanced enough to develop well; being knowledgeable about oneself as a learner as well as about what one is learning (knowing what one knows an what one doesn’t fits here also); being an inquirer who knows how to ask the right questions and identify the questions that need asking; being principled enough to be honest about one’s learning and its development and to use one’s learning to promote and improve better learning environments in the future; being open-minded enough to learn from every opportunity; being willing and brave enough to try something with the possibility of failure but the promise of moving forward and being robust enough to bounce back and see mistakes as learning opportunities.

    There are surely other lists of attributes however by accepting and promoting the idea that schools are about not only helping young people develop these, but also about helping young people develop these attributes for themselves and seeing their development as learners as part of their rights and part of their life, we are changing the educational paradigm towards a better future.

    Imagine a world where everyone bought in to developing these characteristics. It is true that there are attributes which are neutral enough to be used for ‘good’ or for ‘bad’ but these are balanced buy other attributes such as open-mindedness, caring and collaboration and again checked by learners seeking to balance their development in each attribute.

    I believe this leads to a future where we see the similarities in each other first and are interested in exploring the differences between us for our mutual development. I believe that this could lead to a new sort of morality where we start to run our societies with big hearts and big minds rather than what we have now in many cases where humanity is could be brought to its knees by the reverse – small hearts and small minds.

    All communities have to do is to focus on developing real learners and let each person as a real learner do the rest individually and collaboratively.

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