Philosophical Perspectives

Kathy L. Schuh, Sasha A. Barab

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

25 Scopus citations


Philosophical perspectives are worldviews that define the nature of the world, the individual’s place in it, and the possible relationships to that world and its parts. Learning and instructional theories are developed with respect to a particular set of assumptions regarding what it means to know and learn. It is our contention that when situational variables require some decision on the part of the educator (and we believe this is always the case), an underlying set of assumptions (whether they be tacit or explicit) will, and should, drive the decision. In this chapter we provide overview descriptions of five psychological perspectives, contrasted in terms of epistemology, ontology, unit of analysis, and whether they suggest dualist relationships. These theories (behaviorism, cognitivism, cognitive constructivism, sociocultural/historicism, and situativity theory) provide frameworks for describing learning and designing instruction. It is the goal of this chapter to clarify these distinctions and the underlying assumptions so instructional designers, teachers, and researchers may make pedagogical decisions more explicitly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, Third Edition
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781135596910
ISBN (Print)9780203880869
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Behaviorism: An objectivist and monist perspective with regard to individual actions and decisions.
  • Cognitive constructivism: A form of realism that stresses the reorganization of mental structures of an individual making sense of the world.
  • Cognitivism: An objectivist and rationalist perspective with regard to individual cognitive structures.
  • Dualism: When two apparently related items are treated as separate and distinct (e.g., mind/body or individual/environment).
  • Empiricism: An epistemology that states that knowledge comes from experience and through the senses.
  • Epistemology: How we come to know about what exists.
  • Idealism: A view of reality as mental, implying that the world is not separate from the mind.
  • Objectivism: An ontological and epistemological view that contends that reality exists outside of the individual and consists of specific entities.
  • Ontology: What exists in the world.
  • Pragmatism: The view that knowledge is derived from interaction among groups of individuals and the artifacts in their environment, which together create a reality.
  • Rationalism: An epistemological view where reason is the principle source of knowledge.
  • Realism: A form of objectivism that assumes that there is some sort of reality that is separate from the mind and that knowing involves a correspondence between the world and the mind.
  • Relativism: A general principle that places the meaning of experiential and physical events in the relationships that exist among them.
  • Situativity theory: A form of realism that stresses an individual’s direct perception of events and phenomena.
  • Sociocultural/historicism: A relativist perspective that emphasizes relations and processes between the individual and society.
  • Unit of analysis: Boundaries of the phenomena of interest.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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