Repair Theory


Debugging procedural knowledge

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … procedures
  • Knowing is … applying a procedure
  • Learner is … a fixer (individual)
  • Learning is … mastering a procedure
  • Teaching is … giving feedback




Repair Theory focuses on procedural learning, which is assumed to be mainly an inductive process (i.e., about producing generalizations based on individual cases). Resting on a metaphor that “errors are like bugs in computer programs,” Repair Theory attends to the “repairs” (i.e., strategies or meta-actions) used by learners to address their own systematic errors. It emphasizes rapid feedback to make learners aware of bugs as quickly as possible. Associated constructs include:
  • Star-Bugs (John Seely Brown, Kurt A. VanLehn, 1980s) – procedures that are so flawed or bizarre that no one would seem them as having bugs. (Hence, they would be rejected rather than repaired.)


Research into Repair Theory has been based mainly on arithmetic procedures at the primary school level – that is, its empirical base is shallow and narrow. Moreover, it is rooted in a conception of formal education that has been the focus of extensive criticism over the past half-century. (See Deep vs. Surface Learning.)

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

John Seely Brown; Kurt A. VanLehn

Status as a Theory of Learning

Repair Theory is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Repair Theory is a theory of teaching that is focused on rote mastery of procedures.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Proponents of Repair Theory are inattentive to the assumption they share with Brain-as-Computer Discourses. The evidence base of Repair Theory is narrow and shallow. In other words, Repair Theory does not satisfy our criteria of a scientific theory.


  • Star-Bugs

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2022). “Repair Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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