Smith and Ragan, Chapters 1 & 2

Smith and Ragan open their book with a series of solid, foundational definitions. As they describe it, “instructional design” is “the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation” (p. 2). “Instruction” is defined (for the authors’ expressed purposes, at least) in part as relatively distinct from terms such as “training,” “teaching,” and “education.” The term “design,” in turn, Smith and Ragan note, “implies a systematic or intensive planning and ideation process prior to the development of something or the execution of some plan in order to solve a problem” (p. 4).

The authors go on to describe the instructional design process—or, rather, (indicating that there is no “one size fits all solution” to the design process), they offer a framework or guide to some of the more used/accepted approaches to the process. Smith and Ragan also qualify their descriptions by noting that, while the instructional design process “may often be portrayed as linear, in practice it is frequently iterative, moving back and forth between activities as the project develops” (p. 11).

The two foundational poles the authors present in the second chapter are rationalism–of which constructivism is one form, wherein “reason is the primary source of knowledge and that reality is constructed rather than discovered” (p .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” (p. 22).

Smith and Ragan subcategorize Constructivism into individual constructivism, social constructivism, and contextualism. 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).

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Guenther, Chapter 1

Guenther opens Human Cognition (1998) with an historical overview of the terrain he’s looking to traverse in his book. The first, introductory chapter, he notes, is mean to serve as “a discussion of the important events in our history that brought about the transition from the predominantly supernatural perspective that characterized the cosmology of medieval Europe to the natural perspective on human mental life that characterizes the cosmology of our modem culture” (p. 1). We arrive at the view of cognitive science most easily recognized and readily accepted today by way of other theories of the mind (that Guenther undoes one by one)—spiritual, mechanistic, behavioralist and, finally, computerized. Guenther spends the bulk of this chapter addressing the problems in applying a computer metaphor to human cognition, though he explains the several ways (in 1998) in which neural nets may have some significant potential for thinking about our thinking. Guenther concludes by making an argument against those who would say that the materialistic approaches accepted by many today are, ultimately, dehumanizing.

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).