How do the major educational philosophies of
constructivism (rationalism), empiricism,
and pragmatism relate to behaviorism and
cognitive learning theories?
Dept. of Educational Management, ISE, BNUZ
Educational philosophy, such as constructivism, empiricism and pragmatism is developed in more practical fields by educators through their observation and experiment. As a result, learning theories are born based on the philosophy. Behaviorism and cognitive learning theory receive the widest acceptation in educational field. And we will discuss how the major educational philosophies relate to the learning theories below.
1. Constructivism/Rationalism and Cognitive Learning Theory
The ideas of constructivism come from cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and anthropology. It is an educational philosophy within a larger category of philosophies characterized as "rationalism." A rationalist philosophy holds that reason is the primary source of knowledge and that reality is constructed, not discovered. Some rationalists would argue that a single reality does not exist; rather multiple realities exist and are constructed by each individual.
Based on cognitive psychology, constructivism is an assumption on analyzing the process of learning occurring, which is supported by various phenomenon that is mainly developed into cognitive learning theory.
Cognitive learning theory is a general approach that views learning as an active mental process of acquiring, remembering, and using knowledge. Learning is evidenced by a change in knowledge which makes a change in behavior possible. Learning itself is not directly observable.
So here we can see that since cognitivism focuses on an unobservable change in mental knowledge, constructivism describe and develop it in learning field, then cognitive learning comes from the practice of constructivism and makes constructivism more practical. Cognitive learning theory has generally corresponded to a rationalist philosophy and frequently appears compatible with the central tenets of constructivism. It provides more details to analyze the process of individual’s constructing and suggests strategies in teaching and learning concretely.
2. Empiricism, pragmatism and Behaviorism
Empiricism, in philosophy, is a doctrine that affirms that all knowledge is based on experience, and denies the possibility of spontaneous ideas or a priori thought.
Behaviorism believes that learning occurs when new behaviors or changes in behaviors are acquired as the result of an individual’s response to stimulus. It usually subscribed to empiricism.
Both empiricism and behaviorism emphasized the influence of environment on learning. However, based on empiricism, behaviorism provides more details in teaching and learning, which most influential theory is S-R (or S-O-R) theory that contributes much in constructional design.
Pragmatism is a middle ground between constructivism and empiricism. Although pragmatism believes that knowledge is acquired through experience, it considers that knowledge is interpreted through reason and it temporary and tentative. Most pragmatists are not too concerned with whether there is a common reality, such as general principles of learning that are “out there” to be discovered. Pragmatists propose that the question of whether there is a “real” reality is an unproductive question, since, if there is a reality, it can never be totally known. They would describe knowledge in terms of “truth for now”.
So we can see that empiricism provides a philosophical base to emphasize the importance of objectivity while behaviorism describes how to let the objective world interact with individuals. Then based on these, pragmatism engages learners to test what they have learned and modified both subjective and objective world.