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Einstein Got It Wrong (For Once) … Some Consequences For Problem Based Learning

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.234.1 - 3.234.10

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W. Ernst Eder

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3230

Einstein got it Wrong (for once) – Some Consequences for Problem-Based Learning

W. Ernst Eder Royal Military College of Canada


Differences between theory and practice are often discussed, usually leading to misinterpretations of both, and of their relationships. It is assumed that there is a conflict situation.

A misinterpretation of theory occurs mainly in the opinions of theoreticians, who claim that a phenomenon "is governed by theory." On the contrary, theory tries to provide a scientific description of a phenomenon, and underpin it by a set of logically interpretable models. Misinterpretation occurs also with respect to practice. Every practice is concerned with the object – real or process, and the method – of use of the object, and of designing the object.

The relationships among theory, object and method are discussed, and it is shown that these three form a coordinated triad. A further comparison is made between the theory-object-method triad, Kolb's model of learning styles, and advice given by Confucius. This demonstrates that problem-based learning is probably a good model for educational presentations, but must be supplemented by formal explanations of the theory, and formal demonstration and practice of the method for that particular topic of learning. This is particularly true for education in designing.


A recently received e-mail message contained a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is." This quote from Einstein is wrong on several counts, and therefore needs a more extensive discussion. It leads to misinterpretations of both theory and practice, and of the relationships between them. It assumes that there is a conflict situation, a dichotomy. The falseness of the impression of dichotomy can be shown by several other quotations from eminent people:

"Theory and Practice are not antagonistic, as is so often tacitly assumed. Theory is not necessarily unpractical, nor Practice unscientific, although both of these things may occur ... It is not a matter of merely setting forth in a new form and order that which is already known ... On the contrary, if the new theory is to lay claim to general interest, it must be capable of producing something new; it must make problems solvable which before could not be solved in a systematic way." [1]

"Before examining the contribution of theory, I want to say a few words about the unsound and

Eder, W. E. (1998, June), Einstein Got It Wrong (For Once) … Some Consequences For Problem Based Learning Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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