Smith and Ragan,”Foundations of Instructional Design”

Smith and Ragan provided a set of detailed, fairly straightforward descriptions and thoughtful considerations on these foundations, as they (confessed “pragmatists,” middle-grouders) see them. The two poles the authors present are rationalism–of which constructivism is one form, wherein “reason is the primary source of knowledge and that reality is constructed rather than discovered” (19)–and empiricism–”sometimes termed objectivism,… postulates that knowledge is acquired through experience…. [, and that] experience allows an individual to come to know a reality that is objective and singular” (22).

Smith and Ragan subcategorize Constructivism into “Individual Constructivism” (19), “Social Constructivism” (20) and “Contextualism” (20). Between rationalism-constructivism and empiricism-objectivism, the authors place their own position, “Pragmatism,” which might be considered a ‘middle ground’ between rationalism (constructivism) and empiricism…. Although pragmatists, like empiricists, believe that knowledge is acquired through experience, they believe that this knowledge is interpreted through reason and is temporary and tentative” (22).

To me, one of the more interesting (if shorter) arguments that the authors make in this chapter addresses (as they see it) the need to study theory when working in design. In part alluding to the historically fragmentary nature of the field, Smith and Ragan note that “[t]heory bases are the common ground that we share with other professionals in the field” (18).

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