Ontology, Epistemology, Learning Theory, Instructional Theory, and Instructional Design

Have been thinking again about how best to teach the various groups I’m to train over the next few months. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin thought about how instructional design is based on theories of instruction, that are themselves based on theories of learning, that must be based on different epistemological and ontological theories. Cheap and quick, so probably many errors.

ontology, epistemology, learning theory, instructional theory, instructional design, and Stump Jump GSM

Materialism says that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions. Knowledge, therefore, comes only or mainly from sensory experience and can be evidenced.

Its/their natural (not nurtured?!) children are:
(i) behaviourism (primary psychological paradigm 1920s – 1950s): humans are born tabula rosa (blank slate), resulting behaviour is a result of stimulus and response, the environment.

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.” (John B. Watson).

Related instructional theories would therefore be something to do with conditioning, whether classical (Ivan Pavlov), operant (B.F. Skinner), or social learning (Albert Bandura). And the attendant instructional design would be stimulus-response, reinforcement by rewards-punishment, and modelling. Skinner would also advocate practice as part of reinforcement – by for a reason different from that of David Ausubel (see below) who wouldn’t have cared for repetitive rote-learning.

(ii) cognitivism (primary psychological paradigm 1950s-1990s): humans are born with minds like black boxes that influence behaviour. Focus is on neuroscience, the brain, memory (long-term, short-term). Cognitive development occurs in stages (Jean Piaget) by the construction of a series of schemata to understand the world (schema theory – Frederic Bartlett, Richard C. Anderson). Therefore instructional theory emphasises learning styles (for different minds), repetition and mnemonics (to aid the memory), progressive differentiation and advance organisers (David Ausubel).

Phenomenalism says that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as may be perceived through a person’s senses or with their mind. We cannot experience anything beyond the phenomena of our perceptions. Solipsism then states that actually, we can only be sure that our mind exists. Therefore, it agrees with rationalism that truth is best discovered by the use of reasoning and logic rather than by the use of the senses. Learning is therefore done in the context of constructing on what is already known (constructivism) rather than acquiring new knowledge.

Each person has a different interpretation and construction of the learning process. But this can be aided within a zone of proximal development (Lev Vygotsky). Instructional theory would therefore include scaffolding (because of ZPD), collaborative learning, active learning, discovery learning, knowledge building. This would result in instructional design outcomes like problem-based learning, assignments, disputations, interrogations, individualised programmed learning.

And critical theory probably says that none of these theories are valid because they include oppressive use of authority by educators! 😉

*this is not to say though that each of these instructional design theories must definitely be based on the corresponding ontological and/or epistemological theories as set out above.

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Onboard the Trans-mongolian Train 24 from Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) to Beijing (China)

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China)

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing

PB130424Train 24 on the Trans-mongolian Express route from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing (China) was such a nice change from the Chinese stock I took from Moscow to UB.

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingWhether or not due to the presence of the unsmiling Mongolian provodnitsa, the interior of the compartments were comfortingly clean and the bunks properly-made. The bed-linen wasn’t stained or dusty.

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingOur compartment attendant was on her knees scrubbing the corridor several times during the 1 day-journey. And naturally, the stainless steel toilet almost sparkled.

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingInstant coffee and salty milk tea were provided, and paper cups in which to mix your drinks with the hot water from the samovar at one end of the carriage. I shared a second-class compartment with an elderly Korean sailor who had been in Mongolia for the last 6 years. Or so I think he said – he either changed his story several times in the course of the journey or we were suffering terribly from the effects of Babel. Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingWe shared food – I brought biscuits to the table, and he, some fried bread.

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingHe proved to be quite a character – I would awake suddenly from naps to find him staring intently at me, not too far from my face. In the photo above, he is standing and staring into the provodnista’s compartment which she had just entered with a change of clothes.

For a change of scenery, I headed to the restaurant car: Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingThere were some Americans there, one of whom was throwing a tantrum about foreign food and how the cook was not doing his steak just the way he liked it back home. Felt bad for his friends who were trying to explain to a thoroughly confused waiter what the problem was, and then trying to counsel him that this was all part and parcel of travelling.

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingSat back and enjoyed the passing beauty of the Gobi desert. Here, a family of wind turbines; there a few yurts or gers; in the distance, a cluster of dots – cattle? camels? It was fun to speculate along with the rest of the restaurant car. “I see a hump!” “I see two humps!”

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingSoon, we pulled into an assembly line to have our bogies changed at the Chinese border from the 1,520 mm Russian gauge used by Mongolia, to 1,435 mm standard gauge that the Chinese use. Now, life on board the train revolves, amongst few other things, around the loo and its availability. It’s usually locked at railway stations (for hygiene reasons) and here, it was out-of-action for more than 2 hours, causing a little distress amongst those who hadn’t the foresight to do a little bladder management.

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to Beijing

Trans-mongolian Express Train from Ulaanbaator to BeijingIn the morning, the view outside the clear train windows had changed remarkably. There were golden fields of wheat, and mountains just out of a Chinese painting. I finally understood the scenery my Chinese art teacher was trying to get us to portray.

Q: How much does the different sort of native scenery impose on artistic method (versus, say, easy availability of materials)?

Q: Further to a previous musing, how much do political borders delineate existing differences in genetic pool, culture, language, ideas, worldviews, and how much do they incite differences in these areas?

Curious minds want to know.

Meanwhile, here’s a gratuitous photo of what some fellow passengers claimed was toilet waste: frozen toilet waste, Trans-mongolian TrainYou’re welcome.

Mutton and Süütei Tsai (Salty Milk Tea) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)

Locavore, self-sustaining, free-range, and even…organic, might be some adjectives used of Mongolian cuisine if these historical nomads were minded to describe their food in terms understood by the Western city folk.

But the vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, and other plant-based diet fans for whom these labels are gold would be sorely let-down. Mongolian cuisine consists mostly of meat (with very little seasoning), animal fat, and salty milk (tea).

Exhibit 1:
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Бууз (buuz) in oil-slicked soup.

(An aside. I’d like to trace the history of dumplings in the world. While in Latvia, we had pelmeņi at the self-service weight-priced XL Pelmeni (7 Kalku, Riga):
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga

In Moscow, it was khinkali (Georgian dumpling) at Duhan Chito-Ra (Kazakova Street, 10/2, Moscow 105064):
Duhan Chito-Ra Save Kazakova St., 10/2, Moscow 105064

and also good old-fashioned pelmeni with sour cream:
pelmeni with a side of sour cream

A great idea for cooking meat in bite-sized portions. But who had the idea first and what would the passage of that idea through different geographical areas over time tell us about the exchange of ideas in human history? Curious minds want to know.)

Exhibit 2:

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
More Бууз (buuz – Mongolian dumplings) and сүүтэй цай (süütei tsai – Mongolian salty milk tea).

Exhibit 3:

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
хуушууp (khuushuur) which is basically buuz flattened and deep fried. Yum. We ended up at this shop because Mongolian friends were reminiscing about the Naadam Festival and how the area around the competitions would be full of people frying and selling khuushuur.

Many tourists complain about the food in Mongolia. “Just mutton and more mutton and animal fat,” they grumble.

Should there be a universal standard for taste, or even, what might be considered healthy? How many foodie magazines consider the environment from which different cuisines emerge? How many “scientific” studies consider the impact of environment on the nutrients and calories needed by a person living in that different situation?

The sub-zero temperatures of Mongolia make eating mutton and drinking salty milk tea a great pleasure (and even, a necessity), especially when one is not being driven around in a vehicle with more than adequate heating. Much more so for the nomads cattle-herding on the steppes outside the cities.

“You must drink this,” advised several Mongolians,”It will warm you up.”
“And you must eat the fat of the meat, it will keep you strong.”

For this reason, they were leary of vegetables and fruits, seeing them as pernacious attempts by the Chinese to weaken their constitution.

Oh and by the way, Mongolian barbecues? Not Mongolian. They were popularised in Taiwan in the 1970s and then exported to America, then re-exported (or imported?) to Mongolia! The fable put about was that Mongolian soldiers would gather large quantities of meats and prepare them with their swords on their upturned shields over a large fire.

I just had to partake of this irony, so decided to check out BD’s Mongolian Grill, part of a U.S. chain:
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
It cost 5 times as much as a meal in an ordinary Mongolian eatery. The meat was overcooked and, because I did not want to pay for the buffet, not enough for the amount of trekking I was doing. Boo.