Dewey and Instructional Design

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As part of my doctoral course work, I read Dewey’s Experience and Education (1938) lecture series this summer. As an instructional design (ID) practitioner, I noticed numerous connections between what Dewey suggested for optimal learning and the current practices of ID. For example, in his chapter comparing traditional and progressive education, he warned progressive programs not to completely disregard lesson planning for the experiential process of learning events because complete rejection of external controls can lead to missed opportunities usually discovered via preplanned guidance. Dewey believed in a bind between the process of experiencing something and education. He challenged educators to determine what that process entailed in terms of place, occurrence, and purpose. This connects to the ID parameters for creating measurable goals, which include stating the behavior, condition, and criteria of the learning event.

Additionally, Dewey did not advocate for complete control of the learning environment by the instructors. Instead, he welcomed a balanced education where the educator is tasked with understanding all of the social factors involved in the individual learning experience. This is related to the ID analysis phase where the learner, learning environment, and subject matter are analyzed in order to include the entire social, environmental, and cognitive implications. These are identified prior to designing the learning event or learning object, as part of the systematic design of instruction.

In another essay, he called for the need for a theory of experience. Dewey wanted structure for the learning experience through thorough preplanning of a balanced curriculum based on a philosophy of learning from experiences. He wanted educators to break down the components of different experiences. This sounds like what an instructional designer would do through the systematic design of instruction (e.g., entry level, subordinate, and supraordinate skills) of a learning task.

In his essay on the criteria of experience, Dewey suggested the following criteria for experiential learning: continuity, democratic, humane, modifiable, habitual, specification of growth, opportunities for new growth, social interaction, and subsequent broader learning. He felt that disregard of any the aforementioned aspects would derail students from the natural learning experience and all of its positive markers such as wonder, intensity, joy, and the desire to learn more. He touched on the fact that learning experiences are a social phenomenon where interaction is critical. Dewey urged educators to notice the habits and attitudes of their students, as these are tied intrinsically and extrinsically to learning experiences with others. Fortunately, my instructional design studies have included socio-cultural learning (e.g., Bandura and Vygotsky) and motivation (e.g., Deci and Dweck) theories to help me meet the criteria for experiential learning in my lesson or course design.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. The Kappa Delta Pi Lecture Series. New York: NY: Collier Books.

Sandra Rogers

Author: teacherrogers

Content developer, instructional designer, trainer, and researcher

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