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Underpinning Variation theory with research

In this video we will show how Variation theory is underpinned by research from both East (Asia) and the West.

This video explains how Variation theory fits with contemporary research on learning.

As explained in the previous video by Professor Fan, Variation theory states that learners need to experience variation in the critical aspects of a concept, in order for the concept to be learnable. Varying each task within a sequence of tasks will help learning. Variation focuses on concepts in conceptual variation and on procedures in procedural variation.

Examples, non-standard examples and counterexamples play a crucial role in Variation. As with CPA, there is a role for multiple representations (see CPA). Marton, Runesson and Tsui (2004) formulate the functions of variation like this:

  1. Contrast. “… In order to experience something, a person must experience something else to compare it with…”

  2. Generalisation. “… In order to fully understand what “three” is, we must also experience varying appearances of three …”

  3. Separation. “… In order to experience a certain aspect of something, and in order to separate this aspect from other aspects, it must vary while other aspects remain invariant.”

  4. Fusion. “…if there are several critical aspects that the learner has to take into consideration at the same time, they must all be experienced simultaneously.” (p. 16)


Marton, F., Runesson, U., & Tsui, A. B. M. (2004). The space of learning. In F. Marton and A. B. M. Tsui (Eds.), Classroom discourse and the space of learning (pp. 3–40). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, INC Publishers.

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